2nd Lt. Ben R. Morin was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on August 15, 1920, to Benjamin and Josephine Morin. With his four sisters and four brothers, he lived at 1301 South 9th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, and attended local schools. While in high school, 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.
The tank company was inducted into the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940, at 7:00 A.M. During this time, the soldiers were given physicals, and men who were inducted into the army that morning were released from federal service that afternoon after failing their physicals. The remaining men spent the next several days living in the armory. He was one of 131 men who traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was supposed to be a year of training.
One detachment of soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27 at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox. the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip, one of the main topics was were they going to live in tents or barracks. They reached the base late in the day on Thursday and found they were housed in barracks for the night. The next day they were moved to tents with stoves for heat.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28. They marched down Madison to Fifth Avenue in Maywood Street and then north to the Chicago & Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. After the company’s equipment and two tanks were loaded onto the train, it entered Chicago, where the soldiers rode busses to the Illinois Central station and boarded a train that took them to Ft. Knox. Once at the fort they were met by Army trucks at the station which took them to the fort where they reunited with the men who drove. The soldiers lived in six-man tents which had stoves for heat since their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks which they were ordered not to abuse.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics. At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms, and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. On January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played. The game that many of the men began to play was chess and one group became known as “The Chess Clique.” During this time, Ben was one of the sergeants sent to Chemical Warfare School.
On the weeknights, men went to one of the three theaters on the base or played baseball. Others sat around and talked until lights out at 9:00 P.M. when most went to bed. When they were off duty, some men wrote letters, and others read in the dayroom which was open until 11 P.M. on weekends. The majority of men went to Louisville which was 32 miles north of the post while others went to Elizabethtown.
Members of the company received 4½ day furloughs home for Christmas, but it is not known who went home. Those who went home on leave rode two Grayhound busses home and returned to the base on them. For those who remained at Ft. Knox, the base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets, and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, and fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.
Those men who did go home arrived back at the base just before breakfast, which was at 6:00 A.M. on December 26. 1st/Sgt. Richard Danca was waiting for them since he had the job of picking men to be transferred to the soon-to-be-formed HQ Company. 35 men were picked because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. HQ Company was divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks which every company had. Men were assigned various jobs such as scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.
B Company moved into its barracks in December 1940. The men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space. The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the sergeant’s office, and one was in the Lt. Donald Hanes’ office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, and the men watched what they said. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February. The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks. On January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep. On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
The lack of equipment was a major problem for the battalion. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. On December 2, each company received four additional tanks. According to information from the time, each company was scheduled to receive 17 tanks, three half-tracks, four motorcycles, two motorcycles with passenger cars, four, two-and-a-half-ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck. The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
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 May, he received a temporary commission as a Second Lieutenant.
Winter finally arrived on January 4, when the high for the day was 24 degrees and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was also in January that the companies had their first target practice and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty caliber and fifty caliber machine guns as well as forty-five caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired at the same time. All those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and in combat. Ten members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their compliment of clothing.
Most of the men were attending the various schools they were assigned to on January 13th taking classes lasting until May 31st. The tankers went through intensive training in the various classes at the Armored Force School which taught classes in gunnery, radio communications, tank maintenance, vehicle maintenance, tank driving, as well as other classes. The entire battalion on January 28, took part in a one-day problem that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and to put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 A.M. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. It was also at this time that each company had a tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their own tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
The biggest task at Ft. Knox facing the members of the 192nd, was that each company had to get used to the other. During this process of adjustment, the members of the different companies often were involved in fistfights. As time passed, the fights ended as the members of the battalion became friends. Each company was made up of three platoons of thirty men and each company had the same number of tanks assigned to it. The one exception was Headquarters Company which had three assigned tanks. When the battalion finally received all its tanks, the soldiers were told to “beat the hell out of them.”
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.
The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Congress on August 13, 1941, extended the time that federalized National Guard units serving in the regular army by 18 months. The next day, the commanding officer of the 192nd, Major Bacon Moore, was informed the 192nd would be going overseas, but it is not known if he shared this information with his officers.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, where they spent the night. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, the men, and trucks who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators.
During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker to pull the tank out from Camp Polk.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.
There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long – that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only struck if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them. To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two and a half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm.
They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.
The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers believed they had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, and Manila. There is no proof this was true. Men whose National Guard enlistments were about to expire, who were 29 years old or older, or who were married, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion. Both the new men and the old members of the battalion were given leaves home to say their goodbyes.
According to the first story, the decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 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 Taiwan which had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
In the story, many of the men of the 192nd believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army during the maneuvers – to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, they even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
The battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. The company took the southern route along the Gulf Coast through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. At Yuma, Arizona the train stopped and the Native Americans entered the train cars and sold beads to the soldiers. The soldiers knocked each other over attempting to buy the beads. After the train pulled out of the station, someone noticed that the genuine Native American beads were made in Japan.
When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
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 U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, while two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan. When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as they left the ship, a Marine was checking off the names of the enlisted men. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks with 17th Ordnance. Most of the men rode a train to the fort.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving dinner – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued were heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool,” which they borrowed from the 194th, meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th Tank Battalion and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
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.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, a squadron of planes on routine patrol spotted Japanese transports milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the two tank battalions were put on full alert and the tanks were ordered to their positions at Clark Field to protect the airfield from paratroopers. The 194th guarded the northern half of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. The airfield’s two runways were shaped like a “V” and the Army Air Corps’ hangers and headquarters were at the point of the V. The tankers slept in sleeping bags on the ground under their tanks or palm trees and received their meals from food trucks. Two members of each tank crew remained with their tank at all times. On December 7, the tanks were issued ammunition and the tankers spent the day loading ammunition belts.
It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning long on December 8, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. The planes were parked in a straight line outside the pilots’ mess hall. At 12:45, two formations, totaling 54 planes, approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. Being that their tanks could not fight planes, they watched as the Japanese destroyed the Army Air Corps.
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. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents that had bullet holes in them. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in any type of bed.
The next day, those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to look at the damage. As they walked, they saw there were hundreds of dead. Some were pilots who had been caught asleep, because they had flown night missions, in their tents during the first attack. Others were pilots who had been killed attempting to get to their planes.
The 192nd remained at Clark Field until December 14, when they then moved to a dry stream bed. On December 21, 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. Both B and C Company made their way north. When they arrived at Dau, it was realized there was only enough fuel for one tank platoon to continue to move north. 2nd. Lt. Ben Morin’s platoon was selected to continue the trip north. Ben explained that he had commissioned a Second Lieutanant days earlier and that second lieutenants are expandable. Morin’s detachment of tanks left Dau at 1:00 PM 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 in 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.
“Dear Mrs. J. Morin:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Second Lieutenant Benjamin R. Morin, O,413,499, 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”
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.
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
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 him, 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 around 9:00 AM. The exact number of POWs in each car appears to have been 98 men. The POWs in the crowded cars had enough room to position themselves so they could move around. The train left Cabanatuan 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, Ben 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 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 was 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 of material from the worksite, they received a beating. Usually, the reason they failed to meet the quota as 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. Ben R. 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 had 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.”
Sometime in July, his parents received a letter he wrote. In it, he said:
“To the people of Maywood.
“The tankers are still unbowed under the bludgeonings of Fate. The following are only a few of the many local men who had their chins up when last I saw them in November ’42: Capt. Hanes, Lts. Holland and Merrifield, Sgts. Heilig, Hildebrandt, Al Edwards, Jordan and Griffin, Cpls. Jack Cahill and Dravo, and Pvts. Martin, Zelis, Gados, Jim Edwards, Kwiatkowski, Boni, and Bird.
“Col. Wickord and Lt. Tom Savage of Oak Park are here with me. We are making a perpetual 54 day-day Novena to Our Blessed Mother under whose protection we have placed ourselves. Please correspond with Mrs. Wickord, and Mrs. Savage. I have made many friends among our brother officers. My closest includes an officer who has been there and back with me, Norman WIdes of Lexington, Kentucky, and also Father Vic Turner, an Australian Jesuit, who is a true spiritual father and friend to me.
“I received your package today, and I appreciate not only the choice contents, but also the personal touch which flavored it. It brought me back into your kitchen, Mom, Please send me one of my old sweaters, some woolen socks, and photographs, and a pipe and tobacco.”
On April 25, 1945, the POWs were boarded 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.
During the trip, the POWs witnessed the Japanese command system in action. When they pulled into one station the bento boxes containing the food for the POWs were not at the station. The Japanese prison officer bawled out the Japanese lieutenant – who was the station officer – and slapped him across the face a couple of times. After he left, the lieutenant called over the first sergeant and yelled at him, and slapped him. The sergeant did the same to a corporal, who did the same to a private first class who called his detail to the station with the bento boxes. The POWs enjoyed their meal.
According to the POWs when they arrived at the camp, they were told that they would have to earn their room and board by working. Their job was to clear semi-fertile mountainsides and plant sweet potatoes and soybeans.
On June 11, 1945, Ben was caught by the Japanese crawling under the wire outside the compound because 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 spend 9 days on half rations. 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.
One day the POWs were planting sweet potatoes when the phone in the camp office rang. In a sharp clear voice in English, the person on the other end requested that he be allowed to speak to the ranking American officer. The ranking American officer was sent to the office. As it turned out, it was the American command in Tokyo notifying the POWs that the war was over.
The POWs were liberated from the camp on September 7, 1945. The next day the former POWs rode a train to Yokohama, where, they 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 and stripped off the clothing they had received during the airdrops from B-29s. The clothing was thrown into 55-gallon drums and burnt. They were sprayed with DDT and then showered. Next, they were issued new clothing and shoes. After this was done, they had a meal of hotcakes, jam, butter, and coffee waiting for them. They boarded a hospital ship and were given physicals. It was at this time that it was determined if a man was sent back to the Philippines or immediately to the United States. It was at this time that he was promoted to First Lieutenant.
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.