Ryan, Pvt. Robert J.

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Pvt. Robert James Ryan the son of Michael and Marie Ryan was born on September 12, 1916, in Marshfield, Wisconsin. With his two sisters and brother, he grew up at 641 Ninth Street South in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. He was known as “Bob” to his family and friends and worked in a nursery. He registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, and named his mother as his contact person. He indicated on his registration that he had been temporarily laid off from his job at Prentiss Wabers Stove Company in Wisconsin Rapids. Bob was inducted into the U.S. Army on April 7, 1941, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he did his basic training. His basic training was finished in three weeks when he was assigned to the 192nd Tank Battalion’s medical detachment and started his medical training. The 192nd Tank Battalion was made up of federalized National Guard tank companies. A Company was from Janesville, Wisconsin. His training as a medic was under the direction of the 192nd’s doctors since the Army believed that the best type of medical training was hands-on. A few classes were available for the medics, but most appeared to be classes on administration duties.

During their free time, the soldiers went to the movies, went to dances held every two weeks, went to the post library, went skating every weekend, and played basketball. In the spring and summer, they played volleyball and baseball. They also had a bowling league and competed against the companies of the battalion and against companies from other units. Men also participated in boxing. Men who lived within 50 miles of the fort were allowed to go home on weekends. The soldiers who remained on base went to Louisville 35 miles to the north of the base or Elizabethtown 16 miles to the south of the base. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M. 

At the beginning of June, a detachment of men went to Detroit, Michigan, to pick up 39 trucks for the battalion. The exact date they left is not known, but they spent the night at Patterson Field, Ohio, from there they went north through Springfield, Urbana, Bellefontaine, and Bowling Green, Ohio, before entering Michigan. It took the tankers two days to get to Detroit. While they were there, a large number of them crossed the Detroit River, visited Windsor, Canada, and mailed postcards home. It is known they were back at Ft. Knox before June 6th.

On June 14th and 16th, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14th, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16th. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.

The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.

Another detachment of men was sent to Detroit in July. It is not known why they were sent there, but it is known they were there for 7 days. It was during this time the men began hearing the rumor that part of the battalion was being sent to South Carolina while part of the battalion would be going to Texas. They also heard that the battalion would be taking part in maneuvers in Arkansas and that after the maneuvers, the battalion was heading to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for six weeks before they were sent to the Philippines.

During August the battalion was involved in the making of the short movie, “The Tanks are Coming” for Metro Golden Meyer starring George Tobias. It was stated that they were filmed loading and unloading their tanks, but it was not indicated if it was on and off trains or trucks. Some men stated they also took part in other scenes during the movie.

Congress on August 13, 1941, extended the time that federalized National Guard units serving in the regular army would serve by 18 months. The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, where they spent the night. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move.

On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating.  They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3rd. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, the men, and trucks who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station.

The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army under the command of Gen George S. Patton. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators.

During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.”  The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot. 

While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.

It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 2nd at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning –  after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment.  They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders, and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.

The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without their headlights on which meant they could not see obstacles in front of their bikes. When they hit something they fell to the ground and the tanks following them went over them. This happened several times before the motorcycle riders were ordered to turn on their headlights.

He and the other medics dealt with snake bites which were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man in the battalion was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the night cooling down and snakes crawling under the soldiers’ bedrolls for warmth while the soldiers were sleeping on them.

There was one multicolored snake – about eight inches long –  that was beautiful to look at, but if it bit a man he was dead. The good thing was that these snakes would not just strike at the man but only strike if the man forced himself on it. When the soldiers woke up in the morning they would carefully pick up their bedrolls to see if there were any snakes under them.  To avoid being bitten, men slept on the two-and-a-half-ton trucks or on or in the tanks. Another trick the soldiers learned was to dig a small trench around their tents and lay rope in the trench. The burs on the rope kept the snakes from entering the tents. The snakes were not a problem if the night was warm. They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away.

They also had a problem with the wild hogs in the area. In the middle of the night while the men were sleeping in their tents they would suddenly hear hogs squealing. The hogs would run into the tents pushing on them until they took them down and dragged them away. 

The food was also not very good since the air was always damp which made it hard to get a fire started. Many of their meals were C ration meals of beans or chili that they choked down. Washing clothes was done when the men had a chance. They did this by finding a creek, looking for alligators, and if there were none, taking a bar of soap and scrubbing whatever they were washing. Clothes were usually washed once a week or once every two weeks.

On one occasion, members of the detachment were receiving lunch when someone yelled, “Gas!” A number of the medics climbed into a duce and a half truck and laid down on the floor of its bed to hide from the umpires. They thought they were safe when the truck tipped a little and the major looked in the truck and yelled at them to get out of it. The umpires wrote “gas casualty” on their foreheads. They were taken to the hospital and for the next two days, they were carried around on stretchers. Many of the men thought it was the best two days of the maneuvers.

After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox but received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, who were 29 years old or older. or whose enlistments in the National Guard were about to end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. Officers too old for their ranks also were released. This included the 192nd’s commanding officer. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn from a hat. Both new and old members of the battalion were given furloughs home to say their goodbyes. When they returned to Camp Polk and prepared for duty overseas by putting cosmoline on anything that would rust. 

The battalion was scheduled to receive brand new M3 tanks but for some unknown reason, the tanks were not available. Instead, the battalion received tanks from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. The tanks were only new to the 192nd since many of these tanks were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour required maintenance. Peeps – later called Jeeps – were also given to the battalion, and the battalion’s half-tracks which replaced their reconnaissance cars were waiting for them in the Philippines.

The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 13, 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 than the other planes, noticed something odd. He took his plane down, identified a flagged buoy in the water, and saw another in the distance. Following the buoys, he came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.

The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

Many of the original men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks and the tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion during the maneuvers s the First Tank Group – during the maneuvers. Patton did praise the tank battalions for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence he had anything to do with them going overseas.

The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Two members of the battalion – one from Illinois and the other from Ohio – both wrote about the First Tank Group in January 1941 newspaper columns written for their local newspapers. One man identified every tank battalion in the tank group. During the maneuvers, they even participated as the First Tank Group. The tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, and documents show that the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines long before August 13th. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had 48-hour standby orders for the Philippines which were canceled on December 10th.

HQ Company left for the West Coast a few days earlier than the rest of the 192nd to make preparations for the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over at least three train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar, with equipment and spare parts, followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. HQ Company and A Company took the southern route, B Company went west through the middle of the country, and A Company went north then west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.

After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox but received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married with dependents, who were 29 years old or older. or whose enlistments in the National Guard were about to end while the battalion was overseas were allowed to resign from federal service. Officers too old for their ranks also were released. This included the 192nd’s commanding officer. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion who volunteered or had their names drawn from a hat. Both new and old battalion members were given ten-day furloughs home to say their goodbyes. When they returned to Camp Polk and prepared for duty overseas by putting cosmoline on anything that would rust. 

The battalion was scheduled to receive brand new M3 tanks but for some unknown reason, the tanks were not available. Instead, the battalion received tanks from the 753rd Tank Battalion and the 3rd Armor Division. The tanks were only new to the 192nd since many of these tanks were within 5 hours of their required 100-hour required maintenance. Peeps – later called Jeeps – were also given to the battalion, and the battalion’s half-tracks which replaced their reconnaissance cars were waiting for them in the Philippines.

The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 13, 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 than the other planes, noticed something odd. He took his plane down, identified a flagged buoy in the water, and saw another in the distance. Following the buoys, he came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of Formosa which had a large radio transmitter used by the Japanese military. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.

The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck covering the buoys – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and the Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. According to this story, it was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.

Many of the original men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton – who had commanded their tanks and the tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion during the maneuvers s the First Tank Group – during the maneuvers. Patton did praise the tank battalions for their performance during the maneuvers, but there is no evidence he had anything to do with them going overseas.

The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. Two members of the battalion – one from Illinois and the other from Ohio – both wrote about the First Tank Group in January 1941 newspaper columns written for their local newspapers. One man identified every tank battalion in the tank group. During the maneuvers, they even participated as the First Tank Group. The tank group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, and documents show that the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines long before August 13th. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines, with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands, but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. One of the two medium tank battalions – most likely the 191st – had 48-hour standby orders for the Philippines which were canceled on December 10th.

HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left for the West Coast a few days earlier than the rest of the 192nd to make preparations for the battalion. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20th, over at least three train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar, with equipment and spare parts, followed by a passenger car that carried soldiers. HQ Company, the Medical Detachment, and A Company took the southern route, B Company went west through the middle of the country, C Company went through the center of the country a bit further north than B Company and D Company went north then west along the Canadian border. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.

On the island, Robert was involved in giving physicals to the members of the battalion. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced with men who had been sent to the island as replacements. It is known that the 757th Tank Battalion was at Ft. Ord, California, and that men from the battalion joined the 192nd to replace men who failed their final physicals. It was also at this time that Col. James R. N. Weaver became the commanding officer of the 192nd.

The 192nd boarded the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness and also had a hard time walking on deck until they got their “sea legs.”  It was stated that about one-tenth of the battalion showed up for inspection the first morning on the ship. 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 four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. During this time they visited pineapple ranches, coconut groves, and Waikiki Beach which some said was nothing but stones since it was man-made. Before they left Hawaii, an attempt was made to secure two 37-millimeter guns and ammunition so that the guns could be set up on the ship’s deck and the tank crews could learn how to load them and fire them, but they were unable to acquire the guns.

On Thursday, November 6th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville, and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9th, 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 crossed the International Dateline.

During this part of the voyage, the soldiers spent their time attending lectures, playing craps and cards, reading, writing letters, and sunning themselves on deck. Other men did the required work like turning over the tanks’ engines by hand and the clerks caught up on their paperwork. The soldiers were also given other jobs to do, such as painting the ship. Each day 500 men reported to the officers and needle-chipped paint off the lifeboats and then painted the boats. By the time they arrived in Manila, every boat had been painted. Other men not assigned to the paint detail for that day attended classes. In addition, there was always KP. On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.

When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home 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 blackout was strictly enforced and men caught smoking on deck after dark spent time in the ship’s brig. Three days after leaving Guam the men spotted the first islands of the Philippines. The ships sailed around the south end of Luzon and then north up the west coast of Luzon toward Manila Bay.

The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. One thing that was different about their arrival was that instead of a band and a welcoming committee waiting at the pier to tell them to enjoy their stay in the Philippines and see as much of the island as they could, a party came aboard the ship – carrying guns – and told the soldiers, “Draw your firearms immediately; we’re under alert. We expect a war with Japan at any moment. Your destination is Fort Stotsenburg, Clark Field.” At 3:00 P.M., as the enlisted men left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. When an enlisted man said his name, the Marine responded with, “Hello sucker.” Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks. The rest of the battalion rode a train to Ft. Stotsenberg. 

At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field. He made sure that had what they needed and that they all received Thanksgiving dinner – beans or stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. If they had been slower leaving the ship, they would have had a complete turkey dinner, instead, of the leftovers of the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20th 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 their tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents from WW I and pretty ragged. 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. Their tanks were in a field not far from the tanks. The worst part of being in the tents was that they were near the end of a runway. The B-17s when they took off flew right over the bivouac about 100 feet off the ground. The members of D Company may have moved into barracks. At night, the men heard planes flying over the airfield. Many men believed they were Japanese, but it is known that American pilots also flew night missions.

The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, the battalion set up a communications tent that was in contact with ham radio operators in the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave the 192nd frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely. 

With the arrival of the 192nd, the Provisional Tank Group was activated on November 27th. Besides the 192nd, the tank group contained the 194th Tank Battalion with the 17th Ordnance Company joining the tank group on the 29th. Both units had arrived in the Philippines in September 1941. Military documents written after the war show the tank group was scheduled to be composed of three light tank battalions and two medium tank battalions. Col. Weaver left the 192nd, was appointed head of the tank group, and was promoted to brigadier general. Major Theodore Wickord permanently became the commanding officer of the 192nd.

It was also at this time that the process was started to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion. As part of the transfer, all the medical records of the company were organized and given to the medical detachment of the 194th.

Gen. Weaver on December 2nd ordered the tank group to full alert. According to Capt. Alvin Poweleit, Weaver appeared to be the only officer on the base interested in protecting his unit. When Poweleit suggested they dig air raid shelters – since their bivouac was so near the airfield – the other officers laughed. He ordered his medics to dig shelters near the tents of the companies they were with and at the medical detachment’s headquarters. On December 3rd the tank group officers had a meeting with Gen Weaver on German tank tactics. Many believed that they should be learning how the Japanese used tanks. That evening when they met Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, they concluded that he had no idea how to use tanks. It was said they were glad Weaver was their commanding officer. That night the airfield was in complete black-out and searchlights scanned the sky for enemy planes. All leaves were canceled on December 6th.

It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd communications tent who were the first to learn – at 2 a.m. – of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8th. Major Ted Wickord, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, 194th, and Capt. Richard Kadel, 17th Ordnance read the messages of the attack. At one point, even Gen. King came to the tent to read the messages. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The 192nd’s company commanders were called to the tent and told of the Japanese attack.

Most of the tankers heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor at roll call that morning. Some men believed that it was the start of the maneuvers they were expecting to take part in. They were also informed that their barracks were almost ready and that they would be moving into them shortly.

The medics had just had lunch and were in their tents taking naps. It was just after noon and the men were listening to Tokyo Rose who announced that Clark Field had been bombed. They got a good laugh out of it since they hadn’t seen an enemy plane all morning, but before the broadcast ended that had changed. At 12:45 p.m., they heard the sound of planes, since the sides of their tents were up for ventilation, men looked up at the formation of planes in the distance. Men commented about how beautiful the formation was, while other men commented that the planes must be American Navy planes; that was until someone saw Red Dots on the wings. They then saw what looked like “raindrops” falling from the planes and when bombs began exploding on the runways they knew the planes were Japanese. It was stated they took cover, but the planes were bombing Clark Field and not where they bivouacked. It was stated that no sooner had one wave of planes finished bombing and were returning to Formosa than another wave came in and bombed. The second wave was followed by a third wave of bombers. One member of the 192nd, Robert Brooks, D Co., was killed during the attack.

The bombers were quickly followed by Japanese fighters which sounded like angry bees as they strafed the airfield. The medics watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Only one P-40 got off the ground. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways. The Japanese planes were as low as 50 feet above the ground and the pilots would lean out of the cockpits so they could more accurately pick out targets to strafe. The tankers said they saw the pilots’ scarfs flapping in the wind. One tanker stated that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down.

The Coast Artillery had trained with the latest anti-aircraft guns while in the States, but the decision was made to send them to the Philippines with older guns. They also had proximity fuses for the shells and had to use an obsolete method to cut the fuses. This meant that most of their shells exploded harmlessly in the air.

The Zeros strafed the airfield and headed toward and turned around behind Mount Arayat. One tanker stated that the planes were so low that a man with a shotgun could have shot a plane down. It was also stated that the tankers could see the scarfs of the pilots flapping in the wind as they looked for targets to strafe. Having seen what the Japanese were doing, the battalion’s half-tracks were ordered to the base’s golf course which was at the opposite end of the runways. There they waited for the Zeros to complete their flight pattern. The first six planes that came down the length of the runways were hit by fire from the half-tracks. As the planes flew over the golf course, flames and smoke were seen trailing behind them. When the other Japanese pilots saw what happened, they pulled up to about 3,000 feet before dropping their small incendiary bombs and leaving. The planes never strafed the airfield again.

While the attack was going on, the Filipinos who were building the 192nd’s barracks took cover. After the attack, they went right back to work on building the barracks. This happened several times during the following air raids until the barracks were destroyed by bombs during an air raid. According to the members of the battalion, it appeared the Filipino contractor really wanted to be paid; war or no war.

Capt. Alvin Poweleit and an unknown number of medics drove to the airfield to see if they could aid the wounded and dying. When they got there, the hangers and barracks were destroyed, and the B-17s also were totally wrecked. As they were doing this, Japanese fighters began strafing the airfield. To avoid being hit, they hid in a bomb crater. After the planes were gone, the medics treated Filipino Lavenderos (women who did laundry) and a number of houseboys. They also treated officers and enlisted men and saw the dead, men with half their heads torn off, men with their intestines lying on the ground, and men with their backs blown out.

When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, and trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use. Within an hour the hospital had filled to capacity. As the tankers watched the medics placed the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. When the hospital ran out of room for the wounded, the members of the tank battalions set up cots under mango trees for the wounded and even the dentist gave medical aid to the wounded. The medical detachment was moved to an open field where the medics were ordered by Capt. Poweleit to dig a large foxhole. The foxhole became their new quarters.

The medical detachment moved north on December 21st toward the Lingayen Gulf with the rest of the battalion. It was at this time that Robert and Pvt. Robert Ryan went missing during a barrage. They had taken cover while under fire and were separated from the column. The other medics attempted to find them but the area was under heavy fire. Later that night when the medics attempted to return to the area, they found the bridge had been destroyed.

As they made their way north, the battalion was shelled by Japanese guns. Bob and Pvt. Robert Nank were seen diving into a ditch and then never seen again by the other members of the medical detachment. As the 192nd withdrew from the area, the members of the detachment stopped where they were last seen and called their names but stopped when they reached Rosario. The medics returned to the area looking for Robert and Nank and found a bridge had been destroyed. The two men made their way through the mountains and joined the guerrillas of Col. J. P. Horan. Bob spent four months with the guerrillas and was involved in ambushes of Japanese patrols. 

The meals of the guerrillas consisted of rice and fish. In his own words: “However we managed to escape and join the guerrilla forces under Col. J. P. Horan. Three of us hit for the jungles. It took us four days to cross the mountains and we were feeding on whatever we could get, along with the help of some of the natives. We lived in the hills for several weeks and vain;y to reach our troops. In the meantime, we would strike the at the Jap patrols and withdraw.”

On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered, but Bob and other guerrillas did not. On May 6, 1942, Corregidor surrendered and the guerrillas received orders from General Wainwright to surrender.

“When Bataan fell, the Japs came in after us and we kept dodging around from one place to another, eating mostly fish and rice. Finally, after the Nips forced General Wainwright to give in, we were ordered to surrender. It took us five days to come out of the jungles so as you can see we were pretty far in.”

It should be mentioned that Robert Nank did not surrender with him. At first, the Japanese treated the former guerrillas pretty well to get other guerrillas to surrender. When this did not work, the Japanese got rough on the former guerrillas.

“They began to cuff us around for no reason at all. and I’d like to bring that out of 1619 who started out as prisoners, only 230 survived. The rest died of starvation, thirst, mistreatment, lack of medical treatment, or were just plain murdered. When I look back on all this, I wonder if I actually lived through it, it was so unreal.”

In May, his parents received a letter from the War Department.

“Dear Mrs. M. Ryan:

        “According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private Robert J. Ryan, 36,206,232, 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) 
                                                                                                                                                                       Major General
                                                                                                                                                                   The Adjutant General”

It is not known when he arrived, but he was sent to Cabanatuan Camp #1. The POWs were allowed to run the camp and 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.

The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 and 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on double-deck bamboo shelves nine feet wide and eight feet long, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many developed sores and became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together and went out on work details together since the Japanese had instituted the “Blood Brothers” 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. He was assigned to Barracks 5, Group 2. It was said that the Japanese guards would attempt to get the POWs assigned to guard the inside of the fence to come outside the perimeter of the fence. If the man did, he was shot and the guards told their commanding officer that the POWs were “trying to escape.”

Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.”  The rice smelled and appeared to have been swept up off the floor. The other problem was that the men assigned to be cooks had no idea of how to prepare the rice since they had no experience in cooking it. During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, the POWs received corn to serve to the prisoners. From the corn, the cooks would make hominy. The prisoners were so hungry that some men would eat the corn cobs. This resulted in many men being taken to the hospital to have the cobs removed because they would not pass through the men’s bowels. Sometimes they received bread, and if they received fish it was rotten and covered with maggots.

To supplement their diets, the men would search for grasshoppers, rats, and dogs to eat. The POWs assigned to handing out the food used a sardine can to ensure that each man received the same amount. They were closely watched by their fellow prisoners who wanted to make sure that everyone received the same portion and that no one received extra rice.

In the camp, the prisoners continued to die, but at a slower rate. 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 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. 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. The platform was covered in feces which was made worse by the excrement from the higher platform dripping down onto it. Most of those who entered the ward died. When a POW died, the POWs stripped him of his clothing, and the man was buried naked. The dead man’s clothing was washed in boiling water and given to a prisoner in need of clothing. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area.

On August 7th, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17th. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”

Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12th and were recaptured on September 21st and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water.  One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.

On September 29th, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten-man group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate, and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down, thrown into a truck, driven to a clearing in sight of the camp, and shot.

From September to December, the Japanese assigned numbers to the POWs. The first POWs to receive numbers were those being sent to another camp in the Philippines or being sent to another part of the Japanese Empire. Robert became POW 1-8334. This was his POW number no matter where he was sent in the Philippines. 

It is known from records kept by the POW medical staff that Bob was admitted to the hospital side of the camp on October 23rd with dysentery and was assigned Ward 13. Other records show that on January 1, 1943, he was assigned to Ward 8 and tested positive for Entamoeba histolytica, while another record from June 3rd shows he had been moved to Ward 4. On Wednesday, June 3, 1943, he was admitted to Ward 8 and again tested positive for entamoeba histolytica. He was finally discharged from the hospital side of the camp on August 27, 1943. 

Recalling the POW camps, he said: “The first camp we were taken to, the flies were so thick that the guards made us kill 500 before we were allowed to eat. On average, we never received more than a handful of rice to eat each day all the time I was a prisoner. When we were taken to Cabanatuan prison, the main camp, I began seeing my first atrocities. My first experience with the many men I was to watch die came when we were led to into Cabanatuan camp. They were burying some of the dead. They’d dig a big hole and just toss the bodies into it. It made my blood run cold. Little did I know that I was to witness many scenes much worse than this. I noticed the bodies they were burying were nothing but skin and bone and couldn’t weigh more than 70 pounds. Later I was to realize why they were in this condition. With sanitary conditions practically unknown and very little food, I’m surprised that as many of us survived that did. I didn’t see a piece of meat until December 1942, and it may sound impossible but I actually got 30 to 40 bites out of the meat they gave me which was about a half-inch square. Needless to say, many of us got sick, and the only difference with being taken to what they called a hospital was that you didn’t have to work.”

On October 23, 1943, he was transferred from the medical staff to Group II at the camp. Bob also recalled the first American planes the POWs saw in two years, “On September 21, 1944, we saw the first American planes, and although we were warned against demonstrations, we did let ourselves go some. We did get to see some dog fights and always the Americans were victors.”

Bob was held in the camp until October 14, 1944, when his name was on a list of POWs being transferred to Bilibid Prison. He was held at Bilibid until December 1944. On December 7th, the Japanese ordered the medics to perform physicals on POWs being sent to Japan or another occupied country.

On December 12, 1944, the POWs heard rumors that a detail was being sent to Japan. The POWs went through what was a farce of an inspection. They were told cigarettes, soap, and salt would be issued. The POWs were also told that they would also receive a meal to eat and one to take with them. The Japanese stated they would leave by 7:00 in the morning, so the lights were left on all night. At 4:00 a.m. on the morning of December 13, the other POWs were awakened. By 7:00, the POWs were lined up and roll call was taken of the men selected for transport to Japan. As it turned out, it took until 9:00 to finish this task. The prisoners were allowed to roam the compound until they were told to “fall in.” The men were fed a meal and then marched to Pier 7 in Manila.

At 11:30 A.M., they were ordered to form detachments of 100 men, fed, and marched to Pier 7 in Manila which was two miles away. During the march down Luzon Boulevard, the POWs saw that the streetcars had stopped running and many things were in disrepair. The Filipinos lined up along the street and gave the“V” for victory sign to the Americans when they thought the Japanese wouldn’t see them. They noticed there were bicycles, pushcarts, carts pulled by men or animals, and some Japanese cars and trucks on the street. Japanese soldiers seemed to be everywhere. They also noticed that grass along the street was now full of weeds and the street was also in terrible shape. They also saw the results of American bombings on the city. The Bachrach Garage where a POW detachment had worked for almost two years was now partially destroyed. When the POWs reached Pier 7, they saw almost 40 Japanese ships sunk in the bay. There were three ships docked at the pier. One was an old run-down ship, the other two were large and in good shape. They soon discovered one of the two nicer ships was their ship.

The POWs were allowed to sit down on the pier. Many fell asleep and slept to around 3:45. About 5:00 P.M., the POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru for transport to Japan. It is not known in which hold Bob was held in, but the sides of the hold had two tiers of bunks that went around the diameter. The POWs near the hatch used anything they could find to fan the air to the POWs further away from it.

Bob recalled, “On December 13th they got us onto a ship. It was supposed to be one of their best, the Oryoku Maru. They loaded 1619 in three holds below deck. Inside five minutes men were suffocating and dying.”

The ship left Manila at 8:00 P.M. but spent most of the night in Manila Bay. At 10:00 P.M., the Japanese interpreter threatened to have the guards fire into the holds unless the POWs stopped screaming. Some of the POWs fell silent because they were exhausted, and others because they had died. One major of the 26th Cavalry stated the man next to him had lost his mind. Recalling the conversation he had with the man he said, “Worst was the man who had gone mad but would not sit still. One kept pestering me, pushing a mess kit against my chest, saying, ‘Have some of this chow? It’s good.’ I smelled of it, it was not chow. ‘All right’ he said, ‘If you don’t want it. I’m going to eat it.’ And a little later I heard him eating it, right beside me.”

At 3:30 A.M. it sailed as part of the MATA-37 a convoy bound for Takao, Formosa. The ships sailed without any lights out of the bay. By the swells in the water, the POWs could tell that the ship was in open water. The cries for air began as the men lost discipline, so the Japanese threatened to cover the holds and cut off all air. When the Japanese sent down fried rice, cabbage, and fried seaweed, those further back from the opening got nothing. The Japanese covered the holds and would not allow the slop buckets to be taken out of the holds. Those POWs who were left holding the buckets at first asked for someone else to hold it for a while. When that did not work, they dumped the buckets on the men around them.

As daylight began to enter the hold as morning came, the POWs could see men who were in stupors, men out of their minds, and men who had died. The POWs in the aft hold which also had a sub-hold put the POWs who were out of their minds into it. On the walls of the holds, water had condensed on the walls so the POWs tried to scrape it off the wall for a drink. The Japanese did allow men who had passed out to be put on deck, but as soon as they revived they went back into the holds. The Japanese would not allow the bodies of the men who had died to be removed from the holds.

It was noted that one American plane flew over the ships at 6:00 A.M. The POWs received their first meal which consisted of a little rice, fish, and water at dawn. Three-fourths of a cup of water was shared by twenty POWs. It was 7:00 A.M., off the coast of Luzon, and the POWs had just finished eating breakfast when they heard the sound of anti-aircraft guns. At first, they thought the gun crews were just drilling, because they had not heard any planes. It was only when the first bomb hit in the water and the ship shook that they knew it was not a drill. To the POWs, it seemed that most of the planes were attacking the other ships in the convoy. Commander Frank Bridgit made his way to the top of the ladder into the hold and sat down. He gave the POWs a play-by-play of the planes attacking, “I can see two planes going for a freighter off our starboard side. Now two more are detached from the formation. I think they may be coming for us. They are! They’re diving! Duck everybody!”

The POWs heard the change in the sound of the planes’ engines as they began their dives toward the ships in the convoy. Several more bombs hit the water near the ship causing it to rock. Explosions were taking place all around the ship. In an attempt to protect themselves, the POWs piled baggage in front of them. Bullets from the planes were ricocheted in the hold causing many casualties. The attack by 30 to 50 planes lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes. When the planes ran out of bombs they strafed. Afterward, the planes flew off, returning to their carrier, and there was a lull of about 20 to 30 minutes before the next squadron of planes appeared over the ships and resumed the attack. This pattern repeated itself over and over during the day. Lt. Col. Elvin Barr of the 60th Coast Artillery came up to Maj, John Fowler of the 26th Cavalry on the cargo deck and said, “There’s a hole knocked in the bulkheads down there. Between 30 and 40 men have already died down there.” Barr would never reach Japan.

In the hold, the POWs concluded that the attacking planes were concentrating on the bridge of the ship. They noted that the planes had taken out all the anti-aircraft guns leaving only its 30 caliber machine guns to defend the ship. At 4:30 P.M., the ship went through the worse attack on it. The POWs felt the ship shake as it was hit at least three times by bombs on its bridge and stern. Most of the POWs, who were wounded, were wounded by ricocheting bullets and shrapnel from exploding bombs that came through the hatch. Some bombs exploded near the ship throwing water spouts over the ship. The POWs actually rooted for the bombs to hit the ship. During the attack, Chaplain William Cummings – a Catholic priest – led the POWs in the Our Father. As they prayed, the bombs that exploded near the ship sent torrents of water over the ship. Bullets from the planes hit the metal plates, of the hull, at an angle that prevented most of them from penetrating the haul. Somewhere on the ship, a fire started, but it was put out after several hours. The POWs lived through seven or eight attacks before sunset. Overall, six bombs hit the ship. One hit the stern of the ship killing many POWs.

Ryan said, “When the American dive-bombers came over they blasted the ship killing over half the Japs on deck. They gave us no food or water and several men died the first night.”

At dusk, the ship raised anchor and headed east. It turned south and turned again this time heading west. The next turn it made was north. It headed in this direction for a good amount of time before dropping anchor at about 8:00 P.M. The POWs figured out that they had just sailed in a circle. What had happened is that the ship’s rudder had been hit during the attack and the ship could not be steered. Sometime after midnight, the POWs heard the sound of the Japanese civilians being evacuated from the ship. They could hear boats being rowed, people shouting and the sound of children and babies crying. They also hold the voices of the men in the forward hold shouting and the words “quiet” and “at ease men” over and over. During the night, the POW medics were ordered onto the deck to treat the Japanese wounded. One medic recalled that the dead, dying, and wounded were everywhere. The ship steamed closer to the beach at Subic Bay and at 4:00 A.M., the POWs were told that they would disembark in one or two hours at a pier. The moaning and muttering of POWs who were losing their minds kept the POWs up all night. That night 25 POWs died in the hold.

Bob said, “The second night we were still were laying in Subic Bay as the ship was disabled. During the night about 40 more died. Everyone was half crazy with thirst and hunger Even though we knew we might be killed, we were glad our bombers were giving them hell.”

He also stated, “The next night was dark and everyone was gasping for air, food, and water, and we began fighting among ourselves and doing things I cannot repeat. There was blood and a sickening stench all over. When the bombers came over again, one bomb hit the hold where many officers were confined. Half of them were killed and the other half was wounded. As the wounded didn’t receive treatment, they died before we reached Japan.”

It was December 15th and the POWs were sitting in the ship’s holds when a guard shouted that the wounded would be the first to be evacuated. The POWs selected 35 wounded and sick to be evacuated when planes appeared at 8:00 A.M. The POWs took cover but the planes circled around and did not attack. Since there was no ack-ack fire from the ship, and no movement on deck, the POWs guessed that the pilots believed the ship had been abandoned. Three men who tried to go up the ladder without permission were shot and killed. About a half-hour later, they were ordered to send up the wounded. Ten minutes later a guard shouted that the next 25 men should be sent up. As the POWs were coming up, the guard suddenly looked up and motioned to them to get back into the hold. He shouted, “Planes, many planes!” As the POWs were abandoning ship the planes returned and continued the attack.

The POWs quickly realized that this attack was different. From the explosions, they could tell the bombs were heavier and all aimed at the ship which bounced in the water from the explosions. The POWs felt the ship shake every time a bomb hit it. Small holes appeared in the hull and when a bomb fell near the ship water came into the holds through the holes. The stem of the ship was hit by a bomb which also allowed water to enter the holds. Chief Boatswain Clarence M. Taylor who was in the water said, “I saw the whole thing. A bomb fall, hit near the stern hatch, and debris go flying up in the air.” In the hold, the POWs crowded together. Chips of rust fell on them from the ceiling. After the raid, they took care of the wounded before the next attack started. In the hold, a Catholic priest, Chaplain John Duffy began to pray, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”

As the other POWs waited a Japanese guard who had been at Cabanatuan yelled into the hold at the POWs, “All go home; speedo!” The POWs made their way over the side and into the water. The POWs scrambled up the ladders and stairway. As they left the holds they knew that there was a good chance they would have to swim to shore. When they got on deck they found that the ship was parallel to the shore and about 400 to 500 yards away from it. The Japanese guards and interpreter had abandoned the ship, but the ship’s captain remained on board. He told the POWs – with his limited English – that they needed to get off the ship to safety. They also found that it was a sunny day and the sky and water were blue. The water toward shore was filled with swimming Americans and Japanese all headed toward shore while Japanese machine guns fired on the POWs to prevent them from escaping. The ship was still floating okay, except the stern was sitting lower in the water and was listing. 

Bob recalled: “When we were told to come out of the holds and swim for shore, some of the guards fired into us with machine guns, killing and maiming many. Jap marines shot and killed any that looked like they were escaping or floating away.”

The POWs in the water shouted to those on deck to get off the ship because it only had about 2 to 3 minutes more before it went under. Many of the men, climbed onto the railings and jumped into the water – which was 30 feet below them – feet first. The better swimmers helped the weaker swimmers get to anything that floated. As they swam away from the ship, for the first time they saw how badly it had been damaged. An entire section of the stern had been blown away and the ship looked like a pile of scrap metal. The entire ship was pitted, bent by bullets, or twisted or bent. The stronger swimmers kept an eye out for anyone having problems swimming.

Four of the planes flew low over the water above the POWs. The POWs waved frantically and shouted at the planes so they would not be strafed. One of the planes banked and flew lower over the POWs. This time the pilot dipped his wings to show that he knew the men in the water were Americans. About a half-hour later, the ship’s stern began to really burn and the bodies of the dead could be seen on the decks. The stronger swimmers returned to the ship and encouraged the poor and non-swimmers to jump into the water. Once in the water, they made sure they had a plank to float on and make it to shore. The Japanese sent out a motorboat with a machine gun and snipers on it. The POWs attempting to escape were hunted down and shot. It is believed that as many as 30 men died in the water.

There was no real beach, so the POWs climbed up on a seawall and found the Japanese Naval Landing Party had set up a machine gun and had just laid flat to rest when the gun opened fire on them. Those who came ashore were warned to stay in the water but only did so when one man climbed up on the seawall and was wounded. There were also Japanese snipers in wait to shoot anyone who attempted to escape. When they looked at the water, it was full of dead fish of many sizes killed by the bombs. The men ate salted beans that were in a tub that had been looted from the ship.

The POWs were gathered together and marched to a grove of shady trees about 200 yards from the beach where they sat down and dried out the few possessions they had left. That afternoon they were moved to a single tennis court at Olongapo Naval Station which was about 500 yards from the beach. There, they were herded onto a tennis court, and roll call was taken. It was discovered 329 of the 1,619 POWs who had boarded the ship had died. The Japanese packed 1300 of the POWs on the court with 100 wounded POWs taking up a great amount of room at one end. They could barely sit down and only lay down by lying partially on another man. No sooner had they occupied the tennis court than American planes came over and began to make a strafing run. The men on the tennis courts waved their shirts and arms in an attempt to identify themselves as Americans. The lead plane’s pilot apparently realized they were Americans and flew over them to the Oryoku Maru and started bombing the ship which caused it to catch fire and sink.

While the POWs were at Olongapo Naval Station, a Japanese officer, Lt. Junsaburo Toshio, told the ranking American officer, Lt. Col. E. Carl Engelhart, that those too badly wounded to continue the trip would be returned to Bilibid. Fifteen men were selected and loaded onto a truck. They were taken into the mountains and shot and buried at a cemetery nearby. The remainder of the POWs remained on the tennis courts for five or six days. During that time, they were given water but not fed until the 17th when the Japanese brought a 50-kilo bag of rice. About half of the rice had fallen out of the bags because of the holes. Instead of giving it out that night, Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C. said they should feed the men in the morning. The next day each man received 3 tablespoons of rice and a quarter spoon of salt. The POWs received the same amount of raw rice two more times while they were on the tennis court. The Japanese excuse for not giving the POWs cooked food was they were going to be moved soon, but the guards were seen eating cooked food on several occasions.

Bob recalled his time on the tennis court, “We were herded into the tennis court, the 1,250 of us who remained. There we sat for three more days with nothing to eat or drink. While we were there, we saw a man get his arm cut off because gangrene had set in. There were no medicines, Fortunately, the poor fellow died shortly after and saved himself a lot of suffering. On the fourth day, we got one sack of rice, about 100 pounds for 1,250 of us. We each got a level tablespoonful and chewed it raw. Meanwhile, we were eating leaves, grass, and weeds, and anything within our grasp.”

Beecher had several arguments with the Japanese over food and treatment of the wounded. When he told the Japanese interpreter, “For God’s sake! Hospitalize these wounded men or they are all going to die!” The interpreter said, “All Americans are going to die anyway.” 

The POWs remained on the tennis court for six days. During their time on the court, American planes attacked the area around them. The men watched as the fighter bombers came in vertically releasing bombs as they pulled out of their dives. On several occasions, the planes dove right at the POWs dropped their bombs, and pulled out. The bombs drifted over the POWs and landed away from them exploding on contact. Since the POWs had no place to hide, they watched and enjoyed the show. They believed that the pilots knew they were Americans but had no way of knowing if this was true. But what is known is that not one bomb was dropped on them even though they could be seen from the planes. 

The first 500 POWs left Olongapo on December 21, and arrived at San Fernando Pampanga, at 3:00 p.m. and were put in prison. At about 8:00 a.m. on the morning of December 22nd, 22 trucks arrived at the tennis court. Rumors flew on where they were going to be taken. A Taiwanese guard told the POWs, in broken English, “No go Cabanatuan. Go Manila; maybe Bilibid.” The guard knew as little as the POWs. The POWs were taken by truck to San Fernando, Pampanga, arriving there at about 6:00 p.m. Once there, they were put in a movie theater. Since it was dark, the POWs saw it as a dungeon.

During their time at San Fernando, Pampanga, the POWs lived through several air raids. The reason for the air raids was the barrio was the military headquarters for the area. Most of the civilians had been moved out of the barrio. Many of the Americans began to believe they had been taken there so that they would be killed by their own countrymen. December 23rd, at about 10:00 PM, the Japanese interpreter came and spoke to the ranking American officer about moving the POWs. The Japanese loaded the seriously ill POWs into a truck. Those remaining behind believed they were taken to Bilibid but the fact was they were beheaded and buried at the Campo Santo de San Fernando Cemetery. The remaining POWs were moved to a trade school building in the barrio.

After 10:00 AM on December 24th, the POWs were taken to the train station. The POWs saw that the station had been hit by bombings and that the cars they were to board had bullet holes in them from strafing. 180 to 200 were packed into steel boxcars with four guards. The doors of the boxcars were kept closed and the heat in the cars was terrible. Ten to fifteen POWs rode on the roofs of the cars along with two guards. The guards told these POWs that it was okay to wave to the American planes.

On December 25th, the POWs disembarked at San Fernando, La Union, at 2:00 AM and walked two kilometers to a schoolyard on the southern outskirts of the barrio. From December 25th until the 26th. The POWs were held in a schoolhouse. On the morning of December 26th, the POWs were marched to a beach. During this time the prisoners were allowed one handful of rice and a canteen of water. The heat from the sun was so bad that men drank seawater and died.

The remaining prisoners boarded onto the Brazil Maru and were held in three different holds. The ship had been used to haul cattle and the POWs were held in the same stalls that the cattle had been held in. In the lower hold, the POWs were lined up in companies of 108 men. Each man had four feet of space. Men who attempted to get fresh air by climbing the ladders were shot by the guards.

The daily routine for the POWs on the ship was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they used ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterward, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea. During the night of December 30th, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water.

Bob recalled his time on the ship: “When no food was forthcoming, we stole bags of horse feed and ate that. Men were dying on an average of four to five a day on this ship. People would just wouldn’t believe some of the things that happened. The Japs piled the bodies of the dead on the deck like cordwood, as they were afraid to throw them overboard for fear of submarines detecting their course. When they assigned me to another hold, I took a chance and sneaked back to another that wasn’t as crowded. Good fortune was with me, apparently. Because when American bombers again attacked, the hold was hit by a bomb. However, I was wounded slightly by shrapnel from another one shortly after. gain, for days we were without food or water. The death rate increased rapidly. Only 900 of the group of 1,250 remained now. We counted 40 or 50 dying each day.”

The daily routine for the POWs was to have six men climb out of the hold. Once on deck, they used ropes to pull up the dead and also pull up the human waste in buckets. Afterward, the men on deck would lower ten buckets containing rice, soup, and tea. During the night of December 30, the POWs heard the sound of depth charges exploding in the water. The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on December 31st and docked around 11:30 AM. After arriving, each POW received a 6-inch long by 3/4-inch wide piece of hardtack to eat. This was the first bread they had eaten since receiving crackers in their Red Cross packages in 1942. The POWs received little water during this time. From January 1st through the 5th, the POWs received one meal and day and very little water resulting in the death rate among the POWs beginning to rise. It was at this time that the POWs from the Brazil Maru were transferred onto the Enoura Maru and put into the forward hold. On January 6th, the POWs began to receive two meals a day.

The POWs were receiving their first meal of the day on the 9th when the sound of planes was heard followed by the sound of the ship’s machine guns firing. As the POWs sat in the holds, the explosions of bombs falling closer and closer to the ship were also heard. The waves created by the explosions rocked the ship. During the attack, the POWs watched as three bombs fell toward the ship. All they could do was wait to see where the bombs would hit. One bomb exploded outside the haul of the forward hold and another fell through the open hatch exploding in the hold. Together they killed 285 prisoners. Capt. Jefferson Speck said, “The forward hold was really a horrible mess with blood, brains, and flesh all over the place.” The surviving POWs remained in the hold for three days with the dead. The stench from the dead filled the air. Since the Japanese did nothing to remove the dead from the hold, the POWs stacked the corpses under the hatch so they would be the first thing that the Japanese saw and smelled when they looked into the hold.

In an attempt to repair the ship, the Japanese transferred the POWs to the undamaged hold of the ship and it was moved to the dock. The POWs watched as the Japanese attempted to patch the ship. The Japanese left the dead in the hold and the smell was unbelievable. To get the Japanese to do something, the POWs stacked the bodies under the hold’s hatch so that they would be the first thing the Japanese smelled and saw.

On January 11th, a work detail was formed and about half the dead were removed from the hold. The dead were unloaded onto a barge, and the bodies were taken to shore.  A POW detail of twenty men dragged the corpses to the beach by tying ropes to the legs and dragging them to the grave on the beach. Later in the day, the survivors of the forward hold were moved into another hold on the ship. The Japanese also sent medics into the holds. The medics bandaged the wounds of those who were not too seriously wounded.

The living were left on the ship and began to steal sugar from the middle hold of the ship. The Japanese officer, Lt. Toshino, wanted those stealing sugar turned in to him and threatened to starve the POWs. Lt. Col. Curtis Beecher, U.S.M.C. called the officers together and said, “We’ve got to have two men who are willing to go up and offer themselves as hostages for all the others. I don’t have any idea what Toshino and Wada ordered done to those men. They may have had them shot. I just don’t know.

“The only thing I can promise is this if they survive whatever the Japs do to them, I will see to it that they are taken care of and don’t go without food the rest of the trip.”

An English sergeant and a husky medic volunteered and were sent on deck. Each man was repeatedly beaten and if he passed out, he was slapped until he regained consciousness. When the Japanese were finished, the men were thrown back into the hold. Both men survived but would later die in Japan.

On January 13th, the surviving POWs were boarded onto the Brazil Maru. Barges were used to take the POWs to the ship. The wounded suffered the most pain since some were lowered onto the barges with ropes. When they reached the ship, they were hoisted onto it the same way. The POWs found they had more room in the hold and they were actually issued lifejackets.

Since there were no medical facilities fifteen POWs died the first night.  During this part of the trip, as many as 30 POWs died each day, and the bodies remained in the hold until 50 POWs died. One area of the hold was called the hospital area where the wounded and sick lay in feces. Men who were not in the area – and had shown no signs of illness – were found dead the next day. Usually, the men had frozen to death. This became so common that the medics as they made their rounds in the hold shouted, “Roll out your dead.” Two chaplains died in the hold. One from giving all his food and water to other POWs and the other died from becoming overtaxed from helping others. There was no water to wash the mess kits or for the men to use, so the POWs used urine on their heads to clean themselves. 

At one point, the ship also towed one or two other ships that had been damaged. When the ship docked at Moji on January 29th, the POWs were walking skeletons. Of the original 1,619 men that boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 459 of the POWs had survived the trip to Japan. As the POWs were marched to the train station, the Japanese held their noses while the POWs shuffled through the streets to get to the train station. 

While Bob was in Japan, his parents received a letter from him. It was written while he was a POW at Cabanatuan.

“Dear Mother and Dad – Am feeling fine. Hope you are in good health and Edward is fine. Tell Jimmie and Mary Ann and I hope to see them all and you soon. Really miss you all. Don’t worry. Write. Love to Ellen, Kathryn, Lala, you, and all. Regards to friends. Robert”

In Japan, Bob was sent to Fukuoka #3. It is not known how long he was held there, but he was transferred to Fukuoka #22, which was located at Moji. This was done since he originally was scheduled to go to Manchuria.

The housing in the camp consisted of six barracks 15 feet wide and 75 feet long and divided into five sections. Each section had sliding windows along the back wall. The barracks were in rows and all were separated by 30 feet. There was a covered boardwalk that ran between all the buildings in the camp. The three latrines were 15 feet by 15 feet and with concrete decks. located near to the barracks and were the straddle type. There was also a small 10-foot by 10-foot latrine behind the hospital. Each latrine contained a urinal about 12 feet by 6 feet. The bathhouse was a separate building with two concrete tubs that were 15 feet by 15 feet with plenty of heartwater. There was also a small tub with hot water for washing clothes.

The mess hall was a wooden building that was 24 feet wide by 60 feet long with concrete floors. There were four long tables for the enlisted POWs to eat at and three small tables for the officers. The sick received their meals in the camp hospital. The kitchen was at the end of the mess hall and equipped with cauldrons for cooking. The kitchen was staffed by Australian POWs supervised by Japanese guards.

POWs in the camp who worked in the mine received 705 grams of rice, maintenance workers received 500 grams of rice, and hospitalized  POWs received 400 grams of rice. The POWs every evening received a watery vegetable soup and a little fish once a week which in many cases was rotting. The food was said to be of good quality but the problem was the POWs were never given enough of it.

The camp hospital had steam heat but was always cold in the winter. It was a wooden structure 24 feet wide and  50 feet long and could hold 25 sick POWs in beds which were actually platforms with two-inch-thick mattresses. Three or four POWs occupied a space that was the same in area as one bed. A Japanese doctor oversaw the hospital and visited twice a week. There was also a Dutch and American doctor assigned to the hospital. All medicine and medical supplies came from the Japanese and were given out in small amounts. Beriberi and dysentery were the two illnesses affecting the majority of POWs.

Red Cross boxes were sent to the camp, but like in other camps, they were stored in a warehouse justified by the excuse that they were being saved for an emergency. In April 1945, 125 Red Cross boxes were received in the camp, but none of them were given to the POWs. It is known that the Australian POW shared some of their Red Cross supplies with the Americans. No mail was ever sent from the camp or received at the camp.

Bob and the other survivors of the Oryoku Maru and Enoura Maru were boarded on a series of intercostal steamers. The final ship arrived at Pusan, Korea, on April 25. In Korea, he was held at Jinsen Camp. After the surrender, it was learned that the guards had received orders, four days after the surrender, to kill all the POWs.

Bob returned to the United States and was sent to Mayo Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. He was discharged on May 30, 1946, and returned to Wisconsin Rapids where he was elected Wood County Recorder of Deeds six months after being discharged. Bob married Mary E. Ryan and spent the rest of his life in Wisconsin Rapids. He resigned as County Recorder of deeds in 1968.

Robert J. Ryan passed away on August 23, 1987, and was cremated. His ashes were interred at Forest Hill Cemetery in Wisconsin Rapids.

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