T/4 John Earenst Robinette was born on August 17, 1916, in Mansfield, Ohio, to William Robinette & Catherine Adeline Robinette. He had four sisters and two brothers. After his father died in 1939, his mother worked as a live-in housekeeper. He left school after eighth grade and went to work as a factory worker in a Westinghouse Electric Company. He was living at 188 ½ West Main Street in Mansfield, Ohio.
John was inducted into the U.S. Army on January 27, 1941, in Columbus, Ohio. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he trained on tanks. He was also assigned to C Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The company had been an Ohio National Guard tank company from Port Clinton. His rank meant he had received special training during basic training and referred to as sergeant. During his time at Ft. Knox, he qualified as a tank driver.
A typical day for the soldiers started in 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. 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, pistol, 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. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating.
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 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.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. HQ Company supplied the tanks and half-tracks with supplies and fuel. They also did maintenance work on the vehicles but did not actively take part in the maneuvers.
After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana. On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Men who were married or 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service. Most of the remaining soldiers were given leaves home to say their goodbyes.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf 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 that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The and the next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks with came from the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion traveled over different train routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, where they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe to Angel Island. At Ft. McDowell, on the island, they received physicals and inoculations. Men found with minor medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other 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 Airfield. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was stew slopped into their mess kits – before he went to have his own.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against enemy paratroopers. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times and received their meals from food trucks.
At six in the morning, on December 8, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort and told of the Japanese attack on Clark Field four hours earlier. They were ordered to move their platoons to the perimeter of Clark Field. The 192nd had been assigned to the southern portion of the airfield. The tankers watched that morning as the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed, the pilots went to lunch, and the planes were lined up, in a straight line, outside the mess hall. At 12:45, as they watched, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. Many of the tankers thought they were American until they saw “raindrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese. The bombers were followed by Zeros which strafed the airfield.
After the attack, the tankers saw the carnage done during the attack. Many of the air corps pilots, who had been up all night, were dead in their tents from the strafing. The Japanese had effectively destroyed the Army Air Corps. The tankers would spend the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The tankers fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27 and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.
At Cebu, C Company’s tanks were hidden in the brush. The Japanese troops passed the tanks for three hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, Lt. William Gentry was on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese. They then fell back to Cabanatuan.
C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that C Company’s tanks won the first tank battle victory of World War II against enemy tanks. After the battle, C Company made its way south. When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south.
On December 31, 1941, the commanding officer of C Company sent out reconnaissance patrols north of the town of Baluiag. The patrols ran into Japanese patrols, which told the Americans that the Japanese were on their way. Knowing that the railroad bridge was the only way into the town and to cross the river, the company set up its defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.
Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge. Lt. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town’s church’s steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.
When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady’s tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.
Kennady’s platoon held it’s fire until the Japanese were in view of his platoon and then joined in the hunt. The Americans chased the tanks up and down the streets of the village, through buildings and under them. By the time Bill’s unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
The tankers withdrew to Calumpit Bridge after receiving orders from Provisional Tank Group. When they reached the bridge, they discovered it had been blown. Finding a crossing the tankers made it to the south side of the river. Knowing that the Japanese were close behind, the Americans took their positions in a harvested rice field and aimed their guns to fire a tracer shell through the harvested rice. This would cause the rice to ignite which would light the enemy troops.
The tanks were spaced about 100 yards apart. The Japanese crossing the river knew that the Americans were there because the tankers shouted at each other to make the Japanese believe troops were in front of them. The Japanese were within a few yards of the tanks when the tanks opened fire.
Lighting the rice stacks, the Americans opened up with small fire. They then used their 37 mm guns. The fighting was such a rout that the tankers were using a 37 mm shell to kill one Japanese soldier.
The tank company was next sent to the barrio of Porac to aid the Filipino army which was having trouble with Japanese artillery fire. From a Filipino lieutenant, Gentry learned where the guns were and attacked. Before the Japanese withdrew, the tankers had knocked out three of the guns.
After this, the tanks withdrew to the Hermosa Bridge and held it on the north side until all the troops were across. The tanks then crossed to the south and destroyed the bridge which held the Japanese up for a few days. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan.
In addition to serving as a rearguard, the tankers burnt everything that was being left behind. They burnt warehouses, banks, and businesses that would help the Japanese. It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
The company took part in the Battle of the Pockets. The Japanese had launched an offensive and were pushed back to the original battle line. Two pockets of Japanese soldiers were trapped behind the line. The tanks were sent into the pockets to wipe them out. One platoon of tanks would relieve another platoon. The tanks would do this one at a time.
The tanks used two strategies to do this. In the first, the tanks would go over a foxhole. Three Filipino soldiers were sitting on the back of the tanks. Each man had a bag of hand grenades. As the tank was passing over the foxhole, the three soldiers would drop hand grenades into the foxhole.
The second method was to park a tank over a foxhole. The driver would then spun the tank, in a circle, on one track until it ground itself into the ground wiping out the Japanese. The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn’t have to smell the rotting flesh.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter, was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese who threw dirt into the tank. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use. During this time, the tankers had few if any breaks from the fighting.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, which he declined.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3. The tanks were a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they could not fight back. The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
C Company circled their tanks, fired an armor-piercing shell into the engines of each tank, opened the gasoline cocks inside the crew compartments, and dropped hand grenades into each tank setting them on fire. They then waited for the Japanese who ordered them to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.
The company made its way to Mariveles, where they were searched and items needed by the Japanese Army were taken from them. The tankers heard a rumor that the Japanese were looking for them, so they stripped their uniforms of anything that would identify them as a tank battalion member. When asked if they were tankers by the Japanese, most said they were cooks or mechanics. They were formed into detachments of 100 men.
Later in the day, the POWs were moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles, where the POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. When they were ordered to move, they had no idea they had started what they referred to simply as “the march.” At one point, they were put in the field. Behind them were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
The POWs were ordered to move again. During the march, the POWs received no water and little food. It is known how long it took John to complete the march, but at some point, he reached San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bullpen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down.
During their time in the bullpen, the POWs watched the Japanese bury three POWs. Two were still alive. When one of the men attempted to climb out of the grave, he was hit in the head with a shovel and buried.
At San Fernando, The POWs were put into a small wooden boxcar and taken to Capas. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car. Those who died remained standing until the living climbed out of the cars. From Capas, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O’ Donnell.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water faucet for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink. The death rate among the POWs was as high as fifty men a day. Many POWs went out on work details to get out of the camp.
The dead, at Camp O’Donnell, were taken to the camp cemetery and buried in shallow graves. The reason for this was that the water table was high and the POWs could not dig deep. Once a body was put in the ground, it was held down with a pole until it was covered by earth. The next day, the POWs, on the detail, found wild dogs had dug up the bodies or the bodies were sitting up in the graves.
The rate of death among the POWs was so high that the Japanese knew they had to do something to lower it. They opened a new camp at Cabanatuan. The Japanese sent healthier POWs to the camp. In the camp, he was assigned to Barracks #8. With him in the barracks was Pfc. Wilbur Russell and Pvt. Joseph Pevey of C Company.
After arriving in the camp, John came down with malaria. On Friday, June 26, 1942, he was put into the camp hospital and remained there until Tuesday, September 15, when he was discharged. At some point, he was readmitted to the camp hospital, but there was little the doctors could do for him since they had little medicine. According to records kept by the medical staff, T/4 John E. Robinette died of beriberi on Friday, July 9, 1943, at approximately 10:00 P.M., and was buried is the camp cemetery. His family learned of his death on July 19, 1943.
When his remains were recovered, after the war, his family requested that the remains be returned to Ohio. He was buried at Beaver Creek Cemetery in Wood County, Ohio, during July 1949.