Pvt. John Franklin Ross was the son of Casper P. Ross & Elizabeth Green-Ross and was born on June 10, 1915, in Kaufman, Texas. With his two sisters and two brothers, he attended local schools in Wills Point and graduated from Wills Point High School.
On March 19, 1941, John was inducted into the U. S. Army at Dallas, Texas. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. There, he became a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion.
During his training, it was found that he could operate the radio, so he was trained to be a radio operator. He was later assigned to a command tank of one of the platoons of C Company.
In the late summer of 1941, John and the rest of the 753rd were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Although at Camp Polk, the 753rd did not take part in the maneuvers. The one thing that John remembered about the maneuvers is that he and the other draftees put up verbal abuse from the “lifers” who resented them.
After the maneuvers ended, the 192nd Tank Battalion received orders that it was being sent overseas. According to John, replacements for members of the 192nd who were considered “too old” to go overseas were being sought. John took the place of a man who did not want to go to the Philippine Islands. 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.
In the late summer of 1941, Marcus and the other members of the 192nd were sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to report to Camp Polk. On the side of a hill at Camp Polk, the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, many of the soldiers had figured out that PLUM was an acronym for Philippines, Luzon, Manila.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
It was at this time, men 29 years or older were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Those who did were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. This battalion had been sent to the fort, but it had not taken part in the maneuvers. The M3 “Stuart” tanks from the battalion were also given to the 192nd.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco, California, and ferried, to Angel Island, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King. King 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 earlier.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers on December 1 to guard against paratroopers. Two members of each tank remained with their tank at all times. The morning of December 8, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.
All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north. The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes. When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese. After the attack, the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks. They were then sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27.
The tankers fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27 and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able to find a crossing over the river.
At Cebu, 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 on his radio describing what he was seeing. It was only when a Japanese soldier tried to take a short cut through the brush, that his tank was hidden in, that the tanks were discovered. The tanks turned on their sirens and opened up on the Japanese. They then fell back to Cabanatuan.
C Company was re-supplied and withdrew to Baluiag where the tanks encountered Japanese troops and ten tanks. It was at Baluiag that Gentry’s tanks won the first tank victory of World War II against enemy tanks.
After this battle, C Company made its way south. When it entered Cabanatuan, it found the barrio filled with Japanese guns and other equipment. The tank company destroyed as much of the equipment as it could before proceeding south. John remembered that his tank platoon was moving through a Filipino barrio. The town square had a statue in the middle of it.
Suddenly, a Japanese tank appeared on the other side of the town square. His tank got off the first shot, but the gunner rushed the shot and hit the stature. The Japanese tank fired but also missed. The shot came so close to his tank that the crew saw the fireball go by the turret of their tank. By this time, they had reloaded and the gunner had time to place his second shot. This time he made a direct hit on the Japanese tank.
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, Lt. Gentry set up his defenses in view of the bridge and the rice patty it crossed.
Early on the morning of the 31st, the Japanese began moving troops and across the bridge. The engineers came next and put down planking for tanks. A little before noon Japanese tanks began crossing the bridge.
Later that day, the Japanese had assembled a large number of troops in the rice field on the northern edge of the town. One platoon of tanks under the command of 2nd Lt. Marshall Kennady was to the southeast of the bridge. Gentry’s tanks were to the south of the bridge in huts, while third platoon commanded by Capt Harold Collins was to the south on the road leading out of Baluiag. 2nd Lt. Everett Preston had been sent south to find a bridge to cross to attack the Japanese from behind.
Major John Morley came riding in his jeep into Baluiag. He stopped in front of a hut and was spotted by the Japanese who had lookouts in the town’s church’s steeple. The guard became very excited so Morley, not wanting to give away the tanks positions, got into his jeep and drove off. Bill had told him that his tanks would hold their fire until he was safely out of the village.
When Gentry felt the Morley was out of danger, he ordered his tanks to open up on the Japanese tanks at the end of the bridge. The tanks then came smashing through the huts’ walls and drove the Japanese in the direction of Lt. Marshall Kennady’s tanks. Kennady had been radioed and was waiting.
Kennady’s platoon held 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.
During the withdrawal into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown. The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
In early February, the Japanese attempted to land troops behind the main battle line on Bataan on a small peninsula. The troops were quickly cut off and when they attempted to land reinforcements, they were landed in the wrong place. The fight to wipe out these two pockets became known as the Battle of the Points.
The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time. The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so 45th Infantry dug in for the night.
The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and send so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night.
The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
C Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
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.
In the first engagements with the Japanese, John believed that the tanks did a lot of damage to the Japanese troops. The Japanese liked to dig foxholes to hide in and fight from. To clear out the Japanese, the tankers would stop with one of their tank’s tracks over the foxhole. The driver would then pivot the tank on that track to make it borrow into the ground. Eventually, the Japanese soldier inside the foxhole was crushed.
After some of the heaviest engagements, John stated that the tankers slept upwind of their tanks. The reason the tankers did this was they didn’t want to smell the stench from the flesh and hair caught in the tracks of the tanks.
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 the tree was hit by an artillery shell, 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 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.
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.
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 a royal 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 Japanese launched an all-out attack, on April 3, supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount 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.
On April 7, 1942, the Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan. C Company was pulled out of its position along the west side of the line. They were ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
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.
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.
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, John and the other 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.
During John’s time at Camp O’Donnell, he went out on work details. He did this regardless of how sick or starved he was. On these details, he cut down trees, drove supply trucks, built roads and did farm work.
Camp O’Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from 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.
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 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. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi 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.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic 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 ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
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.
Of all the details that John worked, the worst was the burial detail. He first worked this detail at Camp O’Donnell and continued working 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.
The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so the opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan. 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 the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 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. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail 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 the word when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another 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. 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.
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.
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 awhile, they received bread.
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.
At Cabanatuan, the death rate among the POWs dropped after the men received Red Cross packages. 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 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 Taga Maru. The ship sailed on September 20, 1943. What John remember 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 Taga Maru arrived at Moji, Japan on October 2, 1943. John was taken to Niigata #5-B, where the POWs and worked in a foundry feeding the rollers with hot steel for eight hours a day. 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.”
The POWs were used as stevedores at the Niigata docks and loaded and unloaded ships. It appears that most of what was unloaded was coal for the Rinko Coal Company, but it is known they also unloaded foodstuffs. Other POWs from the camp worked in a foundry.
To unload the coal, the POWs worked on high trestles to unload the coal from the ships into cars. The next day, the prisoners would unload the coal from the cars using baskets. POWs were often forced to work barefooted in the winter, and in the rain, because the guards took away their boots, which resulted in men having bruised, cut, and infected feet. Once a month the prisoners would get one day off.
Meals for the prisoners often consisted of rice. In the rice were small pebbles which damaged the POWs teeth. 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. To get them to work, the POWs were punched, hit with sticks, clubs, rifle butts, and iron bars.
About a month before he arrived in camp, the Japanese had begun a routine of taking every fifth POW from morning roll call and making the men bow to the guards. As the men bowed, the guard kicked the men in their faces or they were hit on the back of the neck with a club while they were bent over. They continued doing this to the POWs until March 31, 1944.
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. From September 3, 1943, to December 31, 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. 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.
John worked there until April 1, 1944, when he was sent to Tokyo 15-B – which was also known as Niigata #15-B – where the POWs also worked in a steel mill. What is known is that two of the camps – at different times – were under the command of Tomoki Nakamura, who had been educated in the United States. Again, those POWs who were too sick to work were sent to work.
During his time at each camp, Nakamura 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. 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.
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 cooks, cook it for him to eat. In addition, flour and macaroni sent from the main POW camp as food for the POWs was never given to them and was given to the guards. The food meant for the POWs was sent out of the camp so that the commandant’s books would balance.
At some point, John was sent to Sendai #5-B, in the northern part of Japan, where the POWs worked in an iron mill for Nippon Steel, and conditions for the POWs were not very good. Although the climate was cold, the POWs’ barracks had little or no heat. He recalled that one day the Japanese announced that the POWs were to take a bath. The POWs removed their clothes and bathed in groups in a large vat filled with hot water. John recalled that it was the only time he had been warm while in Japan. When they got out, the Japanese sprayed the POWs with cold water. Some men refused to let the Japanese do this, and within a few weeks, they had died of pneumonia.
Some POWs worked at a sawmill where they dragged logs to the mill and also ran the mill. One group of POWs dug a railroad tunnel. All the POWs worked in the rain without raincoats. Sick POWs volunteered to work so that the seriously ill could remain in the camp hospital. On their day off, the POWs gathered weeds and wild vegetables, in the mountains, for their mess. They also worked in the vegetable garden and dug air raid shelters.
When a rule was violated, the POWs were slapped, punched, clubbed, hit with wooden shoes, and forced to stand at attention for long periods of time; sometimes in the rain. Afterward, they were confined to the guardhouse without adequate bedding, and their food rations were reduced. Collective punishment was common. On one occasion an entire barracks was made to do pushups because one man had violated a rule. As they did the pushups, they were beaten and kicked. The Japanese interpreter intentionally misinterpreted POW complaints so they would be beaten.
During his time at Sendai #5, John worked as a stevedore unloading and loading ships. He also did other jobs at the steel mill. He and the other POWs had no idea of how the war was going. All they had to go on were rumors. In John’s opinion, those men who placed their hope on the belief that they would be rescued by a certain date often gave up hope and died after the date came and went without anything happening.
Red Cross packages that were meant for the POWs were misappropriated by the Japanese. This included eating the canned meats, canned fruit, canned soup, and cheese in them. The Japanese also smoked the cigarettes from the packages. Clothing, blankets, and shoes sent to the camp for the POWs were also used by the Japanese.
Near the end of the war, the area the camp was in was shelled twice by American ships on July 14 and August 9. The second shelling destroyed the camp and killed POWs. American B-29s bombed that area on August 10th.
On September 15, 1945, John was liberated by American forces and later returned to the Philippine Islands. On the U.S.S. Admiral C. F. Hughes, he arrived at Seattle, Washington, on October 9, 1945, and 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.