Pvt. John Franklin Ross was the son of Casper P. Ross Jr. and Elizabeth Green-Ross and was born on June 10, 1915, in Kaufman, Texas. With his two sisters and two brothers, he lived on Route 4 in Wills Point and graduated from local schools and Wills Point High School. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and named his father as his next of kin.
On March 19, 1941, John was inducted into the U. S. Army in Dallas, Texas, and was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. During his training, it was found that he could operate the radio, so he was trained to be a radio operator. When he had completed training, John was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and became a member of the 753rd which had been sent there. Although at Camp Polk, the 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers. The one thing that John remembered about Camp Polk was that he and the other draftees put up verbal abuse from the “lifers” who resented them.
After the maneuvers ended, the 192nd Tank Battalion – which was made up mainly of National Guardsmen – received orders that it was being sent overseas. According to John, replacements for members of the 192nd who were considered “too old” or men who were married with dependents, or whose National Guard enlistments were within months of ending – were being sought. It is not known if he volunteered or had his name drawn from a hat, but John took the place of a man who did not want to go to the Philippines because the man was afraid that if he was sent to the Philippines, he would be killed by the Japanese. John not having any family obligations volunteered to take his place.
There are at least two stories on the decision to send the battalion overseas, but the decision appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move 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 Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and 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.
Many of the original National Guard members of the 192nd believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by Gen. George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks 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. Some documents show the Provisional Tank Group was also designated the First Provisional Tank Group. During the maneuvers, the battalion even fought as 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.
On August 13, 1941, Congress voted to extend federalized National Guard units’ time in the regular Army by 18 months. On August 15, the 194th received its orders to go overseas. 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 for the battalions going to the Philippines. It is also known that the 193rd Tank Battalion was on its way to Hawaii – during its trip to the Philippines – when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When it arrived in Hawaii the battalion was held there. In addition, either the 70th or 191st was on standby to go to the Philippines but had its orders canceled on December 10.
The 192nd was scheduled to get brand new tanks, but because of some unknown problem it didn’t, so its “new” tanks came from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division and were only new to the battalion. Many were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour maintenance. The tanks 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 central route along through Northern Texas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.
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 with men sent to the island as replacements. It appears these men may have come from the 757th Tank Battalion which was stationed at Ft. Ord, California.
The 192nd boarded 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 and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.” 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 four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made.
During this part of the voyage, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. In addition, there was always KP.
On Thursday, November 6, 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 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. When the ships arrived at Guam they took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.
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 took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines.
The ships sailed south along the east coast of Luzon, around the south end of the island, and made their way north along the island’s west coast where they entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20. They docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When someone said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Once off the ship, they unloaded the battalion’s equipment from the ship while a Thanksgiving Dinner was being cooked for them. When they finished early, the decision was made for most of the men to ride a train to Ft. Stotsenberg. The maintenance section with the help of 17th Ordnance remained behind to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own 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 sound of planes flying over the airfield and many believed they were Japanese reconnaissance planes, but it is known that American pilots flew night missions.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had 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 their tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” – which came from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon. 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. Many of the men visited the barrios near the base.
At the fort, 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 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. The khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
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, and some men were given the opportunity to go to Manila in small groups. Other men visited the barrios near the base.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. 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 an area north and east of Clark Field and Ft. Stotsenberg to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
After hearing the news, Capt. Robert Sorensen went to his company and informed them that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. To an extent, the news of the war was no surprise to the men, and many had come to the conclusion it was inevitable. The remaining members of the tank crews, not with their tanks, went to their tanks at the southern end of the Clark Field. The battalion’s half-tracks joined the tanks and took up positions next to them.
Around 8:00 A.M., the planes of the Army Air Corps took off and filled the sky. All morning long American planes could be seen in every direction. At noon the planes landed and were lined up in a straight line to be refueled near the pilots’ mess hall. While the planes were being worked on, the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.
The tankers were eating lunch when they saw planes approaching the airfield from the north. Many of the men believed they were American planes and had enough time to count 54 planes in formation. As they watched, what appeared to be raindrops – because they shimmered in the sun – appeared under the planes. With the thunderous explosions of the bombs exploding on the runways, the tankers knew that the planes were Japanese. The smoke and dust from the bombs blotted out the sun and made it impossible for the tankers to see more than a few feet. One bomb hit the mess hall where the pilots were eating. The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters that sounded like angry bees to the tankers as they strafed the airfield. The tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to straf. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind.
While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything 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, since they did not have any foxholes, the men used an old latrine pit for cover since it was safer in the pit than in their tents. The entire night they were bitten by mosquitoes. Without knowing it, they had slept their last night on a cot or bed, and from this point on, the men slept in blankets on the ground.
The next morning the decision was made to move the battalion into a tree-covered area. Those men not assigned to a tank or half-track walked around Clark Field to 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 tanks were still at the southern end of the airfield when a second air raid took place on the 10th. This time the bombs fell among the tanks of the battalion at the southern end of the airfield wounding some men.
C Company was ordered to the area of Mount Arayat on December 9. Reports had been received that the Japanese had landed paratroopers in the area. No paratroopers were found, but it was possible that the pilots of damaged Japanese planes may have jumped from them. The company returned to Clark Field and lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
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 fuel for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry. The platoon engaged the Japanese resulting in the loss of one tank and the capture of its crew. The other tanks withdrew but were damaged and later repaired.
After the remaining tanks of B and C Companies were refueled, they made their way to Lingayen Gulf. On the trip, they went through an area where the Philippine Scouts had fought the Japanese, As they passed through it, they saw body parts and discarded equipment everywhere. When they arrived at Lingayen Gulf, where they found themselves on a ridge overlooking the beach where the Japanese were landing troops. The tankers wanted to fire on the landing barges but were ordered to withdraw from the ridge. The crews later realized that the Japanese destroyers that were offshore would have annihilated them in minutes with their guns. They were then asked to make a counter-attack on the same ridge they had vacated and failed to retake it.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province. 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 and fell back toward Santo Tomas.
Just south of the river at Cabu, seven tanks of the company fought a three-hour battle with the Japanese. The main Japanese line was south of Saint Rosa Bridge ten miles to the south of the battle. The tanks were hidden in brush as Japanese troops passed them for three hours without knowing that they were there. While the troops passed, 1st Lt. William Gentry was sitting on the front of his tank on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a shortcut 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 resulting in heavy casualties.
C Company made its way south to Cabanatuan. When the company entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. For three hours, the tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south. They were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. It was reported at this time in local papers that one of the tank commanders stated, “During our many sallies into enemy territory, those Filipinos just rushed in front of our tanks to get at the Japs. Hell. What do they think our tanks are here for?” It was said that the Japanese tanks attacked followed by their troops, against the tanks, resulting in them suffering heavy casualties.
It was at the time that the bridge over the Pampanga River that the tanks were supposed to use to cross the river was found to have been destroyed, but they were able to find a crossing in the river. At this time, C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baliuag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baliuag that Gentry’s tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.
On December 31, 1941, Company was 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, 1st Lt. William Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge inside huts, while the 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. That morning, the Japanese began moving troops across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge. Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town.
Major John Morley, of the Provisional Tank Group, came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts on the town’s church steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks’ positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Gentry had told Morley that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village. When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks 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 its 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 Gentry’s unit was ordered to disengage from the enemy, they had knocked out at least eight enemy tanks.
On January 1, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River, and about half the defenders withdrew. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5, the Japanese attacked Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties. The night of January 6 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road. When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
During the retreat into Bataan, the tanks were moved at night to prevent them from being strafed by Japanese planes. In the jungle, it was very dark. John was in the command tank as the tank was crossing a narrow bridge. When one of the tank’s tracks slipped off the side. The tank fell off the bridge and landed upside down in the bed of a stream. When the tank hit the ground, John fell against the side of the tank. A bolt sticking through the armor hit him in the temple and went deep into his head. Afterward, John bled a lot from the wound and suffered from headaches. After he became a Prisoner of War, John crossed the same bridge repeatedly. Each time, he would look down and see the tank still sitting upside down in the stream.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver: “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw. Just after the infantry evacuated a column of Japanese came marching down the road and were taken by surprise by the tanks and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese This stopped the Japanese advance and the tanks withdrew without any problems.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio, and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting two beaches on the east coast of Bataan. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
While doing this job, B Company noticed that each morning when the PT boats were off the coast they were attacked by Japanese Zeros. The tank crews made arrangements with the PT boats to be at a certain place at a certain time. The Zeros arrived and attacked the PT boats, but this time they were met with gunfire, not only from the PT boats but also from the 50 caliber machine guns of the tanks and half-tracks. When the Zeros broke off the attack, they had lost nine of twelve planes.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan 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 at about 5:15 P.M. and 2nd Lt. John Hay did a quick reconnaissance of the area. After meeting with the commanding infantry officer, he 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-millimeter anti-tank gun was spotted in front of the lead tank and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
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, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well did the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that a specific tank 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 also 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 gave one track power and the tank dragged the unpowered track and went in a circle grinding itself into the ground and wiping out the Japanese. The tankers slept upwind from the tanks so they didn’t have to smell the rotting flesh.
In John’s opinion, the tanks were well armed with machine guns. Japanese troops on foot were no match for the tanks, but every one of the Japanese would shoot at the tanks when they saw them. John recalled that during some of the engagements with the Japanese that the Japanese sent soldiers against the tanks carrying cans of gasoline. The Japanese would attempt to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and attempt to set them on fire. If the tankers could not machine-gun them before they got to the tanks, they would shoot them as they stood on the tanks. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crews inside the tanks.
Since the tanks were riveted, when the turrets were hit by machine-gun fire, the rivets would pop and ricochet inside the tanks. The rivets sparked when they hit the sides of the crew compartment. This situation was made worse by the loud sound of bullets from machine guns hitting the tank. The biggest danger from the rivets was the possibility that one could hit one of the tankers in the eye.
Fighting in the jungle created many problems. John stated that the Japanese liked to use the large roots of the trees for cover. Attempting to clear the Japanese out was a problem. If an artillery shell hit the tree, it would cut down the tree but not hurt the Japanese soldier and he would survive. In one such incident, John told how a Japanese soldier was hiding in a foxhole between the roots of a tree. The Americans fired at the soldier hitting the tree. Wood chips from the bullets fell into the foxhole slowly filling it up leaving less room for the soldier. After a while, John and the other tankers could see his backpack. When he had been pushed up high enough, he was killed by the American soldiers.
After the Filipinos and Americans had withdrawn into the Bataan Peninsula, the tankers found themselves under attack from Japanese planes. To protect themselves from the planes, the tanks were hidden, during the day, in the jungle where the canopy from the trees was so thick that no direct sunlight came through. As a result, he and the other soldiers were very pale. To get a tan, when no planes were around, the soldiers sunned themselves in what little direct sunlight they found.
It was at this time that John had an incident with a Japanese rifle. The tanks were bivouacked, and he was walking along the far edge of their position. As he walked, he spotted a Japanese rifle on the ground. John wondered if he could hit anything with the gun, so he tied a string to the gun and moved it with the string to see if it was booby-trapped. After determining that it wasn’t, John picked the gun up, racked a round into the chamber, and fired at a tree. This was a big mistake! Everyone knew the sound that a Japanese rifle made. The entire camp came alive with the shot being so close. John received major chewing out for firing the gun.
During this time, everyone was expected to volunteer for dangerous (suicide) missions to gather intelligence on the Japanese or to destroy something. In his own words, “It was a thing you had to do.” Being from the country, John believed that he had an advantage over the Japanese soldiers who most likely had grown up in the city. John had grown up shooting guns at game. He thought that most of the Japanese had never touched a gun before joining the military. So after a few shots, John would settle down and feel that his odds were better than theirs.
One of the greatest dangers facing the tankers at this time were snipers. The snipers would tie themselves onto trees and sit in them among the branches for days. One sniper had been taking shots at the tankers for days, so John crawled forward with an M-1 while using a log as cover. After the sniper took a shot and racked the rifle bolt, John determined that the sniper was in a particular tree. John began firing on the lower branches of the tree where they were attached to the trunk and worked his way up.
John believed that he must have been getting closer because while he was firing, the sniper took a shot at him. Finally, the sniper got so close to hitting John in the head that John backed off. The Americans brought a machine gun forward and raked the tree with fire where John thought the sniper was. They hit him and he fell from the branches. He jerked to a stop and hung from his belt which he had used to tie himself to a branch. An officer wanted the Japanese brought down, so John shot the belt until it snapped and the soldier fell to the ground.
John and the other members of his tank crew were assigned guard duty. Their job was to prevent Japanese infiltrators. The tankers set up a roadblock along a gravel road and stopped and searched everyone coming down the road. John recalled that a Filipino man with his head down who was peddling fast approached them on a bicycle. John ordered the man to stop, but he kept on coming. John stood in the middle of the road and hollered for him to halt, but the man kept on coming and rode past John. John’s orders were not to let anyone through without being searched. As the man rode off, John pulled his .45 pistol and aimed it right at the man’s butt. When he fired, the bullet hit the back tire near the road and threw gravel everywhere. The Filipino threw his feet straight into the air and tumbled off the bicycle. John and the other soldiers ran over to the man and inspected what he was carrying but found nothing that was of danger to the soldiers. The Filipino was skinned up pretty badly, but he took off the back tire from the rim and road off. John never knew why the man never stopped.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and could not fight back. 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.
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U.S. Cavalry. During this time the soldiers ate monkey, snake, lizard, horse, and mule. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day. The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3 supported by artillery and aircraft. The artillery barrage started at 10 AM and lasted until noon and each shell seemed to be followed by another that exploded on top of the previous shell. At the same time, wave after wave of Japanese bombers hit the same area dropping incendiary bombs that set the jungle on fire. The defenders had to choose between staying in their foxholes and being burned to death or seeking safety somewhere else. As the fire approached their foxholes those men who chose to attempt to flee were torn to pieces by shrapnel. It was said that arms, legs, and other body parts hung from tree branches. A large section of the defensive line at Mount Samat was wiped out. The next day a large force of Japanese troops came over Mt. Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who were sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack against the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 P.M. the tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed, and at midnight Companies B and D, and A Co., 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group.)
Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it and opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and 17th Ordnance and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.”
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north, they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would not attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do. No Japanese officer arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived, and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff who had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
On the morning of April 9, 1942, John and the other members of C Company received the word of the surrender from one of the battalion’s officers. They were instructed to destroy their equipment and then meet the Japanese at Mariveles on the southern tip of Bataan. John recalled that they drained the oil out of some of the jeeps and trucks and ran them to burn up the engines. For others, they poured sand into the motors and ran them. They also took their guns apart and scattered the pieces so that they would not be found.
At first, the soldiers had been ordered to travel without arms, but John wanted to keep his Tommy-gun to protect the soldiers from bandits or Japanese soldiers. The commanding officer of C Company, William Gentry, spoke to Headquarters over the radio and after some debate, got permission for John to keep his gun. Before they left to meet the Japanese, John and the other men removed all tanker insignia from their uniforms since the tanks had done a lot of damage to the Japanese. All during the time that he was a POW in the Philippines, Japanese guards would ask, “You tanker?” Anyone found with a tanker insignia or admitting to being a member of a tank battalion disappeared or was killed.
On the way to the meeting place, John and the other soldiers saw a bus full of Filipinos with men riding on the roof. They stopped the bus and the driver told them to get on the roof. The first man up the ladder had his hand stomped on by a Filipino soldier who also pushed him off the ladder. John climbed up the ladder and when the Filipino went to stomp on his hand, he stuck the Tommy-gun in the man’s face and made him back away. John made the other Filipinos make room for the tankers and they rode until they were closer to Mariveles.
It wasn’t until the 11th when the Americans met up with the Japanese, they took John’s Tommy-gun and searched everyone. The Japanese took what they wanted and looked for unit identification or insignia. Seeing what the Japanese were doing, John dug a hole with the heel of his boot and slipped the photo he had of his aunt into it without being observed. The Japanese had the soldiers put their possessions in front of them and took what they wanted. After they were done, the Prisoners of War were ordered to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Some men stated they rode trucks there.
At Mariveles, they formed ranks and were searched again and the Japanese took what they wanted from them. If they had blankets, the blankets were confiscated for the Japanese army. From there, they started what they referred to as “the march.” As the POWs made their way north, the Filipinos filled containers with water and placed them along the road. The POWs could not stop but many were able to scoop water into their canteens. By doing this the Filipinos saved a great many lives. The POWs also could see them flashing the “V” for victory sign under their folder arms.
From Mariveles, John, with the other members of C Company, started what became known as the death march. On the march, John went without food and had little water. He also witnessed atrocities committed by the Japanese. The worst thing that he saw happened when a Japanese soldier started yelling at an officer for moving too slow. Without warning, the guard shot the officer in the stomach. The man fell to the ground in agony to the ground. As he lay there, he kicked, rolled, and screamed. The guard did not allow any of the other Americans to help the officer. So, he slowly died.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars. They were packed in so tightly that the men who died remained standing since they could not fall to the floors. When the survivors climbed off the cars at Capas, the bodies of the dead fell out of the cars. From there, John walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base that the Japanese pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. Once in the camp, they were taken into a large field where they were counted and searched and all extra clothing that they had was taken from them and not returned. Blankets, knives, and matches were taken from them. If a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Finally, the camp commandant came out, stood on a box, and told them that they were enemies of Japan and would always be Japan’s enemies. He also told them that they were captives and not prisoners of war and would be treated accordingly. After the speech, the prisoners were allowed to go to their barracks. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs who had Japanese items on them were executed for looting.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men and those who did sleep in one slept in one with as many as 80 to 120 men. Most of the POWs slept on the ground under the barracks. There was no netting to protect the men from malaria-carrying mosquitos as they slept, so many men soon became ill with malaria. The ranking American officer was slapped after asking for building materials to repair the buildings.
The POWs received three meals, mainly rice, a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather. By May 1, the food had improved a little with the issuing of a little wheat flour, some native beans, and a small issue of coconut oil. About once every ten days, 3 or 4 small calves were brought into the camp. When meat was given out, there was only enough for one-fourth of the POWs to receive a piece that was an inch square. A native potato, the camote, was given to the POWs, but most were rotten and thrown out. The POWs had to post guards to prevent other POWs from eating them. The camp had a Black Market and POWs who had money could buy a small can of fish from the guards for $5.00.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line for two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added by the POWs who came up with the pipe, dug the trench, and ran the waterline. Just like the first faucet, the Japanese turned off the water when they wanted water to bathe, but unlike the first water line, the POWs had the ability to turn on the water again without the Japanese knowing it. There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including in the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies. He was told never to write another letter. The Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, but the Japanese commandant refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. When a second truck was sent to the camp by the Red Cross, it was turned away. The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – out of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the bodies were moved to one side, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it. At one point, 80 bodies lay under the hospital.
Of all the details that John worked on, the worst was the burial detail. He first worked on this detail at Camp O’Donnell and continued working on it at Cabanatuan after the new camp opened. He recalled that at Camp O’Donnell the bodies were put into a metal shed until they could be buried. The bodies stacked up faster than they could bury them. The POWs on the detail worked in teams. They would carry the body in a sling on a pole. The pole rested on their shoulders.
When selecting a body, John would climb the pile and select the smallest and least ripe body that he could find. Some of the dead had had wet beriberi and were swollen and very heavy, so he did not choose those. If the body had been dead for a while, the skin would come off in the hands of the two men while they picked it up. To get the skin off their hands, the POWs would rub their hands together and roll the skin into balls. They would then put the body into the sling and attempt to stand up at the same time.
John stated that if he had a good partner, they would stand up at the same time. The two men then would walk in rhythm with the bounce of the sling. Some men couldn’t or wouldn’t do this right. So when working with these men, John would get up quickly and put the weight of the lift on the other man. The one lasting effect from working this detail on John was that he never liked to handle peaches because their peals felt too much like the skin of a corpse.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The Japanese finally acknowledged they had to lower the death rate, so they opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
In May, the War Department sent this message to his parents.
“Dear Mrs. E. Ross:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee if Private John F. Ross, 38,040,918, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian. The transfer of POWs was completed on June 4.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where most of the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march were held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where most of those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken and was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks and divided into groups of ten men. This meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, they received bread. If they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered the camp if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. In early June, four POWs escaped and were recaptured. They were brought back to the camp and tied to posts and beaten. After three days they were cut loose from the posts and made to dig their own graves. They stood in graves facing a Japanese firing squad and were shot. After they had been shot, a Japanese officer used his pistol and fired a shot into each grave.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks and divided into groups of ten men. This meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers. In the camp, John was assigned to Barracks #8. With him in the barracks were PFC Wilbur Russell and Pvt. Joseph Pevey of C Company.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots. To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to assure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.
The POWs were sent out on work details to cut wood for the POW kitchens. Other POWs worked in rice paddies. Each morning, as the POWs stood at attention and roll call was taken, the Japanese guards hit them across their heads. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Another detail was sent out to work at Cabanatuan Airfield which had been the home of a Philippine Army Air Corps unit known as Maniquis Airfield. The Japanese had the POWs build runways and revetments. Other POWs worked in rice paddies.
While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
Inside the barracks, there were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing and the man would be buried naked. The dead man’s clothing would be washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp, and by July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-biotics to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease by August.
On 26 June 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
It is known from hospital records that John was admitted to the camp hospital on July 10, 1942. No record shows why he was admitted to the hospital and no date was given for when he was discharged from the hospital.
In July, they received a second message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private John F. Ross had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
A POW was recaptured on September 17 who had escaped on August 7. 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 touched 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 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.
The Japanese announced to the POWs in the camp that on October 14, 1942, the daily food ration for each POW would be 550 grams of rice, 100 grams of meat, 330 grams of vegetables, 20 grams of fat, 20 grams of sugar, 15 grams of salt, and 1 gram of tea. In reality, the POWs noted that the meals were wet rice and rice coffee for breakfast, Pechi green soup and rice for lunch, and Mongo bean soup, Carabao meat, and rice for dinner.
Fr. Bruttenbruck, a German Catholic priest, came to the camp – assisted by Mrs. Escoda – with packages from friends and relatives in Manila on November 12. There was also medicine and books for the POWs. The POWs started a major clean-up of the camp on November 14 and deep latrines, sump holes for water only, and began to bury the camp’s garbage. Pvt. Peeter Lankianuskas was shot attempting to escape on November 16. Two other POWs were put on trial by the Japanese for aiding him. One man received 20 days in solitary confinement while the other man received 30 days in solitary confinement. Pvt. Donald K. Russell, on November 20, was caught trying to reenter the camp at 12:30 A.M. He had left the camp at 8:30 P.M. and secured a bag of canned food by claiming is he was a guerrilla. He was executed in the camp cemetery at 12;30 P.M. on November 21. The Japanese gave out a large amount of old clothing – that came from Manila – to the POWs on November 22. On November 23, the Japanese wanted to start a farm and needed 750 POWs to do the initial work on it. It was noted that there were only 603 POWs healthy enough to work.
The Japanese wanted the farm detail started which became one of the largest details in the camp. On November 23, they wanted 750 POWs to start work on the farm. The problem was there were only 603 POWs in the camp who were healthy enough to work. It was also one of the most brutal details. At some point, almost every POW in the camp worked the detail. The POWs would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads. The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. He punished the POWs by making them kneel on stones. “Smiley” was a Korean guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads. This was considered the most abusive of the work details with the POWs receiving the worst beatings.
Fr. Bruttenbruck returned on December 10 without proper authorization from the authorities in Manila so he was turned away. He had brought a truckload of medicine and food for the POWs. It was estimated by the POWs that he spent $300.00 for fuel to make the trip. He returned on December 24 with two truckloads of presents for the men and a gift bag for each. This time he was allowed into the camp. The next day, Christmas, the POWs received 2½ Red Cross boxes. In each box milk in some form, corn beef, fish, stew beef, sugar, meat and vegetable, tea, and chocolate. The POWs also received bulk corn beef, sugar, meat and vegetables, stew, raisins, dried fruit, and cocoa which they believed would last them three months. The POWs also were given four days off from work.
The POWs heard explosions on January 11, 1943, as Japanese dive bombers attacked a target about 30 kilometers from the camp. Several of the explosions were extremely loud. The POWs later heard scuttlebutt that 102 Filipino men, women, and children had been killed during the attack. Two days later, they heard another rumor that half of the barrio of Cabanatuan where the warehouses were located had been burned by the guerrillas.
The Japanese installed a radio in the hospital so the POWs could hear their version of the war. During February they heard that the Russians were driving the Germans from Russia but Japan would continue to fight on its own. They also heard the Allies were winning the European War and that there had been a battle in the Marshall Islands. It was also during this time that the fly problem decreased because of the change from slit trenches to box toilets. This slowed the spread of dysentery.
In July 1943, John was selected to go on a work detail to build runways. This detail was known as the Lipa Batangas. The POWs on the detail built runways with picks and shovels. Every other day on the detail, the POWs were alternated and one group worked on a farm. John developed beriberi and was sent to Bilibid Prison, where he was admitted to the hospital on December 30, 1942. He remained there until February 10, 1943, when he was discharged and sent to Cabanatuan.
On September 18, 1943, John with other POWs left Cabanatuan for the Port Area of Manila. On Pier #7, they were boarded onto the Kohu Maru which was also known as the Coral Maru left Manila on September 20. (The ship previously had been misidentified as the Taga Maru.) What John remembered about the ship was that it was too small for the ocean. The Japanese also would not allow the POWs out of the hold even though many of the POWs were seasick. Those who had to vomit vomited into a steel trough in the hold. This same trough was used as the POWs’ toilet. As the ship was tossed around, all that was in the trough sloshed back and forth and sprayed those POWs standing near the trough.
The Kohu Maru arrived at Moji, Japan on October 2, 1943. John was taken to Tokyo #5-B. The first morning in the camp, the commandant had the men strip their clothes off. The prisoners then stood in the cold for an hour and a half. Once they began to turn blue, the commandant addressed them. He said, “I want you people to know that you are prisoners of war, and you will be treated like prisoners of war and not like guests of Japan.”
On December 18, 1943, John’s name appeared on a list of Americans known to be Prisoners of War. When they received it, they had no idea he has been sent to Japan.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH THE INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON, PRIVATE JOHN F. ROSS 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=
A week or so after this notification, they received a letter from the War Department.
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. John F. Ross, 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”
What is known is that the camp was under the camp commander, the POWs were denied Red Cross packages to the POWs, and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs. It was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call since many of the POWs did not have shoes. The food from the packages was given to the guards, his family, and friends. On one occasion, he had the American POW cooks cook the Red Cross food for him to eat. When flour and macaroni were sent to the camp, from the main camp, Nakamura gave the food to the guards to eat.
The first 300 POWs in the camp were Dutch from Java, British POWs, and Canadians from Hong Kong, with the Americans, from the Philippines, arriving on October 7th. The entire camp was a two-story building with a courtyard and a smaller building. In the courtyard was a hand pump which was their only water supply, and the pump was located next to the POWs’ washroom. Thirty POWs were assigned to each room in the larger building and they barely had enough space to lie down. The building appears to have been unheated during the winter and no stoves for heat were provided. The camp kitchen was a small building next to the main building that had a stove. The building was owned by Niigata Kairiku Unso but the POWs were moved, on December 25, 1943, when another 350 POWs arrived at the camp. The new wooden barracks, that were built for the POWs, were of flimsy construction and soon became infested with lice, fleas, and rats, which also spread rapidly among the POWs. Each man had a 3 foot by 6-foot area to sleep in on a straw mat. One building collapsed during a storm on January 1, 1944, and killed eight POWs. One of the new barracks collapsed from the weight of snow on its roof on January 1st killing eight POWs. The other POWs had to dig them out. The Japanese decided the camp was a mistake and moved the POWs to another location. The major improvement was that the barracks had stoves for heat and the POWs could bring coal from the docks to keep the fires going. The kitchen that cooked the POWs’ food was two miles from where the POWs were housed, so the POWs seldom had a hot meal. There was also no water supply and water had to be brought to the camp in drums.
The camp had a British doctor, Major William Stewart, who attempted to keep the POWs alive without medical supplies. What served as a hospital was a room with cracks in its walls that wind and snow blew through in the winter. A Japanese medical corporal at the camp sent POWs too sick to work which resulted in some of them dying. When the POWs reported for sick call, they were beaten, hit, punched, and kicked in the face or stomach. Most of the deaths that took place in the camp were the result of men too ill to work being forced to work.
From September 3, 1943, to December 31st, a guard jumped on or kicked the POWs suffering from beriberi and malnutrition. He ordered them to stand at attention and to bow. He was also known for appropriating the Red Cross packages sent to the camp for the POWs. Any POW who did get put on sick call had his food rations cut in half. The Japanese medical personnel sent sick and weak POWs to work. They also misappropriated medical supplies sent by the Red Cross for use by the Japanese personnel in the camp. In October 1943, he had those POWs suffering from dysentery brought to him. When they arrived, he poked them in their stomachs with a stick. He also hit them on the head and body with his hands, fists, and with a stick to get them to go to work since so many POWs were needed each day.
Punishment in the camp was extreme with POWs being beaten senseless and revived with cold water so they could be beaten again. Usually, the beatings took place because the POW had been caught stealing food while unloading a ship. After the POW was beaten to the Japanese satisfaction, he was thrown into the guardhouse. When he was released he went back to work. POWs caught stealing food a second time were put in the “extreme guardhouse,” after being severely beaten, without a blanket (regardless of season) without shoes, socks, or overcoat. The man’s food ration was also caught in half. When he was released the beatings continued. When two POWs were caught stealing Red Cross packages, they were beaten repeatedly over several days and tied up outside only in their underwear. They later died of exposure
It was also at this time that the Japanese announced the POWs would be receiving Red Cross Boxes, but there was a catch, The POWs had to allow Red Cross Boxes to be given to the camp staff. The POWs already knew that the Japanese were misappropriating the boxes because the guards were seen eating Red Cross sugar and cocoa. The Japanese also used canned food from the boxes as rewards so the POWs would work harder.
Since it was a two-mile walk to the docks, the POWs were most likely awakened sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 A.M. Their breakfast was usually a potato with what they called “greens.” They also had a soup once in a while that was made from seaweed which tasted pretty good. They also received grasshoppers cooked in soybean sauce once in a while. Their workday started in the dark at 5:00. At noon they received lunch which was a cold potato or soups made from radishes. Once in a great while, they received fish. The food rations for the POWs were determined by the jobs they performed. The POWs working in the factories received 600 grams a day, while those assigned to the docks received 700 grams. A typical meal consisted of rice or soybeans and the tops of daikon which were Japanese radishes. The POWs would receive a watery soup once in a while. Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles that damaged the POWs’ teeth. To supplement their meals, the POWs would smuggle food into the camp. The sick in the camp were forced to work since the Japanese needed a certain number of POWs to unload the coal at the docks. It is known that Red Cross packages sent to the camp, for the POWs, were misappropriated by the Japanese and sold on the Black Market.
It was raining the first day the POWs went to work on the docks and they shivered since their clothing was meant for the tropics. Many of the POWs were assigned to work the docks unloading coal for the Rinko Coal Company and it is known they also unloaded foodstuffs. The Japanese supervisor had the nickname “Whiskers” and was brutal to the POWs. Under Whiskers were former Japanese soldiers who had been wounded in China and were no longer able to fight. These “Honchos” actually treated the POWs fairly well because they viewed them as combat veterans like themselves. Those Honchos who had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often would scream at the POWs and beat men up for no reason. To get them to work, the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
The POWs would push coal cars – that could hold half of a ton of coal – along rails on a trestle that was 30 feet above the ground. At different places, they dumped it on the dock. Since there weren’t enough cars, many POWs had to carry the coal on their shoulders in baskets attached to poles. At one point, a guard took the boots away from the POWs during the winter and made them work barefooted on the trestle in cold and wet weather. He also knocked the POWs down and kicked them. The result was that their feet were bruised and cut up from the coal. The guards would often help the POWs push the coal cars and it wasn’t unusual for the guards who mistreated the POWs to have accidents. Sometimes while pushing the cars the handle was pushed and the coal fell onto the guards. The guards also accidentally slipped and fell off the trestle, but so did some of the POWs at times. When the POWs got back to their barracks after working, they were wet and could not dry themselves. They also were covered in coal dust and the only way for them to clean themselves was at the hand pump in the courtyard.
On April 1, 1944, he was transferred to Tokyo 15-B and again was working in a steel mill. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and an electrified fence. Well-armed guards also patrolled the perimeter of the camp. Inside the fence were two, two-story barracks for the POWs. The two floors were divided into rooms that slept eight POWs each. The rats were so bad in the barracks that the POWs tucked their covers in tightly to prevent them from biting, but they felt them running across the blankets at night.
The commandant denied Red Cross packages to the POWs which would have supplied them with food, clothing, and shoes. Nakamura and the camp guards were seen wearing the Red Cross shoes meant for the POWs. He also wore shoes that were sent by the Red Cross for the POWs and handled them out to the guards. It was noted that in the snow blood was seen where the POWs had stood for roll call since many of the POWs did not have shoes.
The POWs reported that he used the Red Cross parcels for his own use and gave the food to the guards for their mess. He was known to have raided the parcels for the food, and on occasion, had the American POW cook it for him to eat. When flour and macaroni were sent from the main camp for the POWs, the commandant gave the food to the guards to eat.
The POWs received a small potato for breakfast and a cup of green tea. Lunch was a small bowl of rice covered with potato tops and they received the same meal for supper. The Japanese had the POWs raise rabbits, but when the rabbits became large enough to eat, the Japanese did not allow them to slaughter them. Instead, the rabbits were allowed to starve to death. When the prisoners received meat, each POW received a piece the size of a thumbnail. Three times a year the POWs received fish three times in 1945. In place of vegetables, the POWs were given flour made from tree roots which were impossible to eat, so most of the POWs wouldn’t even take it. The daily meal averaged 700 calories.
At the end of May 1945, John and another POW were accused of stealing food. The two men were brought into the camp and made to stand at attention in front of the guardhouse. There, the Japanese guards took turns beating the two men. According to other POWs, the beating lasted from three to five hours with clubs that were hickory handles from sledgehammers. Several times during the beating the men passed out, so the guards threw buckets of water on them to revive them, stood them up again, and beat them until they were unconscious again.
The POWs worked at a Shentetsu Steel Mill that was two and a half miles from the camp. There, the POWs fired furnaces and cleaned them. They also lifted heavy pieces of steel much too heavy for them and stacked them in piles.
About one month before the surrender, there was a noticeable change in the attitude of the guards. The POWs had no idea that the war had ended until a week after the official surrender took place. Before the surrender, the guards at the camp were replaced with guards who spoke more English and appeared to be trying to “soft-soap” the POWs.
The camp commandant on August 15, 1945, had the POWs assemble. He and the guards stood at the entrance of the camp and listened to the radio. On it was the emperor telling his subjects that Japan was surrendering and that they were expected to “abide and endure.” Not long after this, the camp commandant killed himself and the guards disappeared from the camp on the 19th. The next day American Navy planes flew low over the camp and the pilots waved to the POWs and gave them the thumbs up. The POWs wondered how they knew where the camp was located. One plane dropped a note attached to a wrench. It said, “War over. Happy days are here again. Paint the roofs of your buildings with large POW letterings. Wait for supplies to arrive by B-29s. God bless every one of you.”
Two days later B-29s, with their bomb bays open, dropped 55-gallon drums attached to parachutes. Two of the drums went crashing through the roofs of the barracks but no one was hurt. A couple of parachutes got tangled in the trees and the civilians attempted to take them but were driven off by the POWs. The planes kept dropping food to the POWs that they left it behind when they left the camp.
The POWs remained in the camp for about a week when an American officer and battle-hardened Marines entered the camp. The Marines began to cry when they saw the physical condition of the POWs. The officer came forward and said in a strong voice, “Men, the war is over. Welcome to freedom. The first thing we have to do is to fatten you up with good food and vitamins. You will be traveling by train in a few days to Yokohama and from there … home, back to your loved ones. The sick will be the first priority to move out of here. Now, I strongly urge each one of you not to stray too far from the camp as there are still hostile Japs out there who do not believe in defeat and surrender. Now, men, God bless you all and WELCOME TO FREEDOM AND LIBERTY.” The POWs crowded around the Americans before they left the camp and hugged them. Tears were everywhere.
The Americans were the first to leave the camp on August 26 followed by the British, and the Canadians the next day. Each group rode the train to Yokohama. On their way to their repatriation location, the train carrying the Americans was stopped because of a train accident. The Japanese train personnel feared they would get in trouble because the POWs did not get to the location on time. Instead of getting upset, the POWs left their train and provided aid to those Japanese civilians injured in the accident.
Once at the docks in Yokohama, the former POWs stripped off the clothing that had been dropped to them by the B-29s and it was thrown into burning drums. They were then spread with DDT and afterward took showers. They received new clothing and shoes and boarded a hospital ship for medical examinations. He was returned to the Philippines for additional medical treatment.
On the U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes, John arrived in Seattle, Washington, on October 9, 1945, and was sent to Madigan General Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington. He returned to Texas and was discharged, from the army, on October 31, 1946. He married Edna Lewis Mickey, and together, they raised four children. John went to college, on the GI Bill, and became a high school science teacher at Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, Texas, where he taught biology and chemistry.
John F. Ross passed away on January 16, 2004, and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery, Fort Worth, Texas.