Sgt. John Elliott Rowland was born on July 7, 1917, in Westerville, Ohio, to Hugh and Hazel Rowland. He was raised, just outside of Westerville at 7010 Cleveland Avenue, on a small farm. At that time, the town had a population of 2,000 people, He attended grade school and high school in Westerville and was a member of the Westerville High School Class of 1935. He next went to Wheeling Business College in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Ohio State University and joined ROTC. He also worked in the classified advertising department of The Westerville Dispatch.
On January 20, 1941, John was inducted into the United States Army. He was one of the first men from Westerville to be drafted. After induction, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. According to John, he had basic training in “Tent City.” The tents that were pitched on concrete slabs and each tent had four bunks, a stove in the center, and had electricity running to them to provide lighting. He recalled the conditions were muddy and cold during the winter and hot and dusty in the summer.
Basic training for the selectees was rushed and finished in seven weeks. During week 1, the soldiers did infantry drilling; week 2, manual arms and marching to music; week 3, machine gun training; week 4, was pistol usage; week 5, M1 rifle firing; week 6, was training with gas masks, gas attacks, pitching tents, and hikes; week 7 was spent learning the weapons, firing each one, learning the parts of the weapons and their functions, field stripping and caring for weapons, and the cleaning of weapons. All the training was done with the 69th Tank Regiment of the First Armored Division under the supervision of officers and enlisted men from the 192nd.
In John’s case, this did not happen. After he arrived at Ft. Knox, he came down with scarlet fever. He remained in the hospital for weeks and when he began getting better, he developed pneumonia and stayed in the hospital even longer. When he got out, because he had been in ROTC, he was credited with completing basic training.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
It was at this time that John was assigned to the Headquarters Company. A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up before this since they wanted to wash and dress. Breakfast was from 7:00 to 8:00 A.M., followed by calisthenics from 8:00 to 8:30. Afterward, the tankers went to various schools within the company. The classes consisted of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistol, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in tactics.
At 11:30 the soldiers stopped what they were doing and cleaned up for mess which was from noon to 1:00 P.M. Afterward, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. It is at this time that he was assigned to reconnaissance with the company.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
During his training at Ft. Knox, John was trained to do reconnaissance in scout cars and to use firearms. He recalled that the company had scout cars, motorcycles, and its own tanks.
John viewed his time in the army as a vacation. He was drafted with the belief that after a year of service, he would be released and go home. He enjoyed what he described as, “a change of lifestyle.”
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of Hq Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of Hq Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
In the late summer of 1941, the battalion was ordered to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry. Many of the men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” Being a member of Hq Company, he worked to keep the tanks running, supplied, and performed administrative duties, but he did not actively participate in the maneuvers. He recalled that there was a shortage of equipment, especially firearms, so wooden guns were used and also wooden rifles. Tanks had signs hanging from their sides indicating what type of tank they were.
After the maneuvers, they were sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. It was on a side of a hill that the battalion learned they were being sent overseas. John stated they loaded their “new” tanks onto flat cars and put cosmoline on all firearms to protect them rusting while at sea. The “new” tanks were new to the 192nd.
The decision to send the 192nd overseas – which had been made during August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
By train, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. Once there, the soldiers were inoculated and given physicals. Some men had minor medical conditions and held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. During this time John rose in rank from private, to private first class, to corporal, to sergeant.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. Some reports state the convoy stopped at Wake Island.
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, but two other ships intercepted by the Louisville were Japanese freighters that were hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – a stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
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. They 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 was unbelievable. At night, they heard the sounds of planes flying over the airfield which turned out to be Japanese reconnaissance planes. In addition, the khaki uniforms they had been issued also turned out to be a heavy material which made them uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance. Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance plane pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea.
It was at Fort Stotsenburg, that the reconnaissance platoon received new half-tracks to replace the reconnaissance cars that they had trained with at Fort Knox. The half-tracks were armored and the bodies of the half-tracks had 3/8 of an inch armored plating.
The tanks were ordered to the perimeter of the Clark Field, to guard against Japanese paratroopers, on December 1st. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times. The men were fed by food trucks that came to them.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, at about 6:30 AM, John’s company was in their chow line when they heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He recalled:
“We were in line for chow line for breakfast that morning, about 6:30 A.M., when we heard about Pearl Harbor. It was quite a shock to us. Really we didn’t know what to think. So we went ahead in getting our equipment ready. We were on ready alert, full alert, and we were in combat condition as nearly as we could be.”
At noon, he and other members of his company were listening to Tokyo Rose. She reported that Clark Field had been bombed. He and the other men got a good laugh out of this report since they were at Clark Field and there wasn’t a Japanese plane in sight. At 12:45 that afternoon, this would all change.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, John lived through the bombing of Clark Field by the Japanese. He like everyone else tried to find cover since they had no weapons to use against bombers. When the fighters came in to strafe the airfield, the tank crews fought back with their 50 caliber machine-guns.
Of the attack, he said:
“Well, I did like everyone else, I ran for cover. I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing to fight. The planes were so high that the anti-aircraft couldn’t reach them. When the strafing planes came, everybody started shooting at those planes and the first plane down in the war was shot down by a fellow by the name of Bardowski who was in our Unit.”
The tank battalion was sent out of Clark Field to an area near Mount Arayat. On December 22nd, they were sent to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese had landed troops. He recalled that after the attack, the tanks were repeated sent on wild goose chases against factious Japanese paratroopers.
John recalled that his reconnaissance platoon was sent north of Cabanatuan where it made contact with the Japanese. In John’s own words, ” My reconnaissance platoon went up Route 3, as far as Pozorrubia – then we came back south and cut over to Route 5, and went to a point just north of Cabanatuan. The dates I don’t recall.
“The Japs were coming down Route 5 were not from Lingayen Gulf, at least I was told that. I became acquainted with Jap artillery, at that time, and the Japs crossed Pampanga River while I was there. Lt. Gentry’s platoon of tanks responded when we notified battalion headquarters that we were in contact with the Japs.”
He also said of the attack. “That night everybody was scared to death including myself. Everything sounded like an airplane whether it was a motorcycle, truck, or anything and we thought sure it was an airplane. So after we calmed down, we went about our business.”
During the next four months, he took part in the long slow withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula. Another job he had was to look for snipers. Finding snipers was never a problem.
The role of the tanks was to hold the line so the infantry could disengage and drop back to the new defensive line. Once this was done the tanks withdrew from the area.
During this struggle, John was a spectator at one of the first tank engagements involving American tanks in World War II. Near Cabanatuan, the half-track John was assigned to made contact with Japanese forces and radioed for help. C Company responded with tanks and engaged the Japanese tanks and infantry. It was evening so darkness caused a break in the engagement. During the night, C Company withdrew without any casualties. The number of Japanese casualties was unknown. John witnessed several more skirmishes as the Filipino and American Forces withdrew into Bataan.
John recalled he was sent to the center of Bataan to hold a pass that it was rumored the Japanese were going to attempt used to break their defensive line. At that moment, the Japanese had broken through on the east side of Bataan.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack 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.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
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. 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.
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 and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) 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 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.”
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. 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 and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men 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 no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances 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.
On April 9, 1942, by radio, John and the other members of his platoon received the news that the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan had been surrendered to the Japanese. His platoon destroyed their three half-tracks and made their way back to Hq six miles away. At first, John was relieved to know that the continual bombing and shelling by the Japanese was over, but in a very short time, he realized that this feeling of relief was a mistake. This realization occurred with the start of the death march.
John recalled that the prisoners on the march were not fed, they did not receive water, and they often received the “sun treatment” by being left sitting in the sun for hours. He recalled, “I spent nine days on the so-called ‘Death March’ without any food.”
After this, when they were forced to proceed with the march, they realized that many men had died or had heatstroke, which prevented them from continuing on the march. These prisoners were either bayoneted or shot by the Japanese guards. How long it took John to complete the march is unknown since he had lost track of the days.
John was one of the hundreds of POWs who were used by the Japanese as human shields against the guns on Corregidor. The Japanese had four artillery pieces firing on the island. The POWs were ordered to sit in front of the guns. When Corregidor returned fire, some POWs were kicked while others were wounded. Corregidor did knock out three of the Japanese guns.
At San Fernando, the POWs were herded into a fenced schoolyard. John recalled that one of the worst things he saw was the Japanese bury three Americans. Two of the Americans were still alive. One attempted to climb out of the grave and was hit with a shovel. He was then buried.
The POWs were ordered to form 10 men detachments and marched to the train station. Once there, they packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men. The Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those POWs who died remained standing since they could not fall to the floor. At Capas, the living climbed out and the bodies of the dead fell to the floors of the cars.
John was first held as a POW at Camp O’Donnell which 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.
On May 8, he was sent back to Bataan as part of a scrap metal detail. The prisoners on this detail salvaged vehicles that were shipped to Japan as scrap. It was also while on this detail that John experienced his first act of kindness from a Japanese guard. A guard seeing that John was ill, gave John B-1 tablets to help him with his beriberi. When the detail ended on June 20, John was sent to the new POW camp at Cabanatuan.
It was while John on the detail that his parents received their first message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. H. Rowland:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Corporal John L. Massimino, 20,600,454, 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 “
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 camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. 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.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. Since the water table was high, the bodies were put into the grave and held down with poles so that they could be covered with dirt. The next day when the POWs on the detail returned, the bodies were often found sitting up in the graves or dug up by wild dogs.
John recalled that able-bodied prisoners who remained in the camps dug latrines, dug graves, and carried the bodies of the dead. John stated that many of those who died were buried without being identified. These details were referred to as “bun” details because the POWs on them received a bun with their meals.
John did not remain at Cabanatuan long. On June 28, John was part of a detail that was sent out as a replacement on the Bridge Building Detail that rebuilt the bridges that were destroyed during the retreat into Bataan. He remained on the detail until September 8, 1942, when he was returned to Cabanatuan.
While he was on this detail, his parents 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, Corporal John E. Rowland 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.”
While on this detail, John was the recipient of a second act of kindness by a Japanese soldier. The Japanese officer in charge of the detail, noticing that John appeared to be dying, called in a Filipino doctor to treat John’s malaria. John believed that since the officer had been educated in the United States, he was kinder to the Americans. This detail ended on September 8, and the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan.
A list of 800 POWs to be transferred to another part of the Japanese Empire was posted at the camp. The POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6 and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball. After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M. There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M. The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.
Before boarding the Tottori Maru on October 7, the prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. The conditions on the ship, for those in the holds, were indescribable, and those POWs those on deck were better off. This situation was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed, which resulted in many of the POWs dying during the trip.
The ship did not sail until the next day at 10:00 A.M. and passed the ruins of Corregidor at noon. In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship. That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck. The first day, the POWs were given three small loaves of bread for meals – which equaled one American loaf of bread – the loaves were supposed to last two days, but most men ate them in one meal. The men did ration their water. The ship was at sea when two torpedoes fired at by an American submarine missed the ship. The ship fired a couple of shots where it thought the sub was, but these also missed. A while later, the ship passed a mine that had been laid by the submarine. The POWs were fed bags of buns biscuits, with some candy, and received water daily.
The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on October 11. Since most were sick with something, the line to use the latrines went around the ship. The American doctors had no medicine to help the sick, and some were seen as benefiting off the sick. It was at this time that the POWs on the ship, from Mindanao, were moved to a second hold putting 500 POWs in each hold.
On October 14, foodstuffs were loaded onto the ship, and each POW got two candy bags of hardtack and one meal of rice and soup each day. The ship sailed on October 16 at 7:30 A.M. but turned around at 3:30 P.M. arriving back at Takao at 10:30 P.M. It was believed the ship had turned around because American submarines were in the area.
The ship sailed again on October 18 and arrived at the Pescadores Islands at 5:00 P.M. There it dropped anchor off the Island of Mako, Pescadores Islands, where it remained anchored until October 27 when it returned to Takao. During this time the quality of food deteriorated and was barely edible. Two POWs also died and their bodies were thrown into the sea at 4:00 P.M. The ship sailed again on October 27 and returned to Takao the same day. While it was docked foodstuffs were again loaded onto the ship.
The next day, the POWs were taken ashore and bathed with seawater at the same time the ship was cleaned. They were again put into the holds and the ship and remained there until the ship sailed on October 29. At 5:00 P.M. it again arrived at Mako, Pescadores Islands. During this time the POWs were fed two meals of a day of rice and soup. The ship sailed on October 31, as part of a seven-ship convoy. During this part of the voyage, it rode out a typhoon for five days on its way to Fusan, Korea. John as one of the POWs on the foredeck remained outside during the storm. On November 3, three more POWs died.
On November 5, one of the ships was sunk by an American submarine and the other ships scattered. The Tortori Maru was barely missed three times by torpedoes from American subs.
The Tottori Maru arrived at Fusan on November 7, but the 1300 POWs leaving the ship did not disembark until November 8 and were issued fur-lined overcoats and new clothing. Those POWs who were too ill to continue the trip to Mukden, Manchuria, remained behind at Fusan. Those who died were cremated and had their ashes placed in small white boxes that were sent to Mukden.
As they marched, the civilians in the town spit on them, hit them and made fun of the POWs. The POWs reached a train station where they boarded a train and were given a little box that contained rice, pickled grasshoppers, and a little fish. They were sent north on a two-day train trip to Mukden, Manchuria. The 400 POWs who remained on the ship were sent to Japan.
John was imprisoned first at Hoten Camp and sent to Mukden Prison Camp on November 11, 1942. Each enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover themselves with at night. The officers got one blanket and a mattress. When they got there, they lived in dugouts and were later moved to a two-story brick barracks with electricity and cold running water. Each enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover themselves with at night. The officers got one blanket and a mattress.
The barracks were divided into 10 sections with five on the ground floor and five on the second floor. Each section was divided into four double-decked sleeping bays which held 8 men. In all, 48 men slept in a section that was infested with lice, fleas, and bedbugs. There was a shelf two feet higher for the men’s clothing. The heat was provided by stoves known as“patchkas” which apparently provided adequate heat. Temperatures during the winter average 40 degrees below zero and over 200 POWs died in the camp the first winter. In John’s opinion, the barracks were never adequately heated and so was the clothing issued to them.
Meals were the same every day. For breakfast, they had cornmeal mush, beans, and a bun. Lunch was maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun. The food was good, but the POWs did not receive enough, and during the first winter 205 POWs died from malnutrition and not having the proper clothing.
Since they were underfed, the POWs trapped wild dogs to supplement their meals of soybeans which usually came in the form of soup. They continued to trap dogs until, while marching to work, they saw one eating a dead Chinese.
Stealing from the Japanese was a way of life, and the POWs stole the raw materials for what they needed on a daily basis. From the raw materials, they manufactured what they needed.
Most of the POWs at Mukden worked at a machine tool and die factory. John stated that the work hours were 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. during the winter and 7:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. during the summer. The POWs worked the same number of hours as the civilians. There, they were supposed to be producing a German copy of the American Brown & Sharp Automatic screw machine. The POWs committed acts of sabotage so the machines broke down. One was to drop sand into the oiling holes of the machines. The later into the war it became the shop manufactured airplane parts and reconditioned ammunition loading machinery that was sent from a firearms plant.
He also stated that for a few weeks after they arrived, each POW was paid ten sen but because of illegal dealing with the Chinese and Japanese civilians, their pay was stopped. Apparently, they later received some pay of about 4 or 5 sen. On being allowed to send mail home he said, “We were not allowed to send mail home until early 1944 and incoming mail was withheld by the Japs.”
John worked as a janitor and hauled coal from the coal pile to the boilers. In addition, he worked in the office at the camp and also made wooden cubes to be used in charcoal burning vehicles. To John’s knowledge, none of the machines they were supposed to be manufacturing was ever completed or shipped in the three years he was there.
Other prisoners also worked away from the main camp in the smaller satellite camps. At these camps, the prisoners produced leather, steel, textiles, and lumber. About 100 prisoners worked in each of these camps.
Punishments were given out for no reason or for violating a rule. The POWs were beaten, hit with bamboo poles, kicked, hit with shoe heals, hit with clubs, punched with fists as they stood at attention. The Japanese, on one occasion, made the POWs come out of their barracks and line up at attention as they searched the barracks. They had all the POWs strip bare because they believed some POWs had bought cigarettes from the Chinese. All the POWs stood barefooted in the snow, for 45 minutes, as the Japanese searched 700 POWs. Another time, when three POWs escaped and were recaptured, the other POWs watched as they were hit on their heads, shoulders, and backs with sticks for hours. At other times, the POW’s food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed POWs were not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area. They would also withhold Red Cross packages from the POWs who did not receive any until late in 1944.
One guard, Eiichi Nada, who was born, raised, and educated, in Berkley, California, was considered to be the worse abuser of the POWs. It was common while the POWs were lined up at morning assembly for him to hit men for no reason. He continued to hit them until they fell to the ground and said, “Get up, you yellow, white, son of a bitch.” Another guard walked through the barracks and hit the POWs, with a 3-foot club, for no real reason. On one occasion, a Lt Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes. After they had, he hit each man in the face with his shoes.
Red Cross boxes were sent to the camp but were raided by the Japanese. According to POWs, the Chinese who they worked with, told them that there was a warehouse full of Red Cross food. When the Red Cross visited the camp, the rations were larger and the sick were told to lounge around. None of the POWs were allowed to talk to the Red Cross representative.
The American doctors at the camp hospital could do little since he and they had few medical supplies. Many of the POWs who died in the camp died from treatable illnesses. In John’s opinion, there was no real medical care. The Japanese Army doctor, Jiechi Kumashima, denied the POWs Red Cross medicines that had been sent to the camp. The Chinese workers at the machine shop told the POWs there was a warehouse full of Red Cross supplies. Another Japanese doctor, Juro Oki, who was a civilian, smuggled medicine into the camp for the POWs. If he had been caught, he would have been shot. After the war, Kumashima was hanged for being guilty of war crimes.
While John was a POW in the camp, a fire broke out in one of the buildings. John went into the building and saved the lives of Japanese employees who were in the building. For his action, he received a written commendation and ten packs of cigarettes.
One of the hardest things that the prisoners at the camp had to deal with was the weather. It was so cold that the POWs grew beards to protect their faces. If a prisoner died, he could not be buried until the ground had thawed in the spring, so his body was stored in a warehouse.
During John’s time at Mukden, his mother received a short wave message from West Coast ham radio operators. In the message, John stated he had received mail and a Red Cross package.
In the spring of 1943, four Americans escaped and made their way to the Russian border. Chinese villagers turned them over to the Japanese and the men were returned to the camp and placed in cells for several months before they were taken to a cemetery and shot.
As the war went on American planes began to appear over Mukden. On one occasion, in December 1944, a bomb, from one B-29, hit the camp killing 20 POWs. The air raids became more frequent until the end of the war.
As the war went on, the POWs saw American planes. On one occasion, while on a bombing run, a barracks in the camp was hit by a bomb killing twenty POWs. The POWs learned later that this happened because the Japanese had placed three ammunition dumps in line with the camp.
On August 16, 1945, a team from the Office of Strategic Services were dropped by parachute in the vicinity of the camp. Late in the day, they were trucked into the camp and met with the Japanese commander. On the 17th, the ranking American officer in the camp, General Parker, was called to meet with the camp commander and the O.S.S. team. Later that day, General Parker told the POWs that there was a truce. It was not until August 20 that the prisoners learned that the war was over. A Russian officer and Russian troops came to the camp and disarmed the Japanese guards. The guards were then turned over to the POWs in a very formal ceremony. At 7:23 p.m., the POWs were declared free men.
The main body of former POWs left Mukden in two groups. John was in the first group that left Mukden on September 11, 1945, by train for Darien, China. John left Darien on the U.S.S. Relief, a hospital ship, on September 12th. After a three day trip, he disembarked the Relief at Okinawa.
Sometime during this time, he wrote a letter home and said, “I may not be the happiest but I am one of the happiest men in the world right now. It’s wonderful to consider oneself free…”
He also said, “Stateside food is quite a treat after such a long time on a diet.” He added, “Soybeans and cornmeal mush have been our staple for nearly three years.”
On September 19th, John was flown to Manila, where he boarded the S.S. Robert L. Hodge for San Francisco. After arriving in San Francisco on September 27, John was hospitalized at Letterman General Hospital. On October 19, 1945, John was placed on a hospital train for Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.
On October 27, 1945, John made his first visit home. Almost four years to the date that he had last seen his family. John was discharged from the army on April 8, 1946, but before he was discharged, he was also promoted to staff sergeant.
John returned to Westerville and married, Virginia Mae Weibel on March 26, 1946. He was the father of two children and lived on the family farm for most of his life. He also worked for the Veterans Administration and the Defense Supply Center. When his health began to fail, he and his wife sold the farm and moved into an assisted living community.
For his service to his country, John was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Campaign Medal, Bronze Star, American Defense Unit Citation with two Oak Leaf Clusters, American Campaign Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge. He was a past president of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.
John Rowland passed away on February 9, 2004, in Westerville, Ohio, and was buried at Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.