Sgt. John Elmore Sadler was born on July 14, 1914, in Elmwood Place, Ohio, to James Elmore Sadler & Mattie Anderson-Sadler. With his sister and three brothers, he resided at 621 South Greenville Street in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. He worked as a farmhand. With his brother, Campbell, he joined the Kentucky National Guard’s 38th Tank Company from Harrodsburg.
On November 25, 1940, the tank company was called to federal service as D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The company boarded 10 trucks in Harrodsburg on November 28th and its tanks were loaded onto a flatcar and taken by train to Ft. Knox. The company left Harrodsburg at 12:30 P.M. arriving about four hours later at 4:30 P.M.
After arriving, they spent the first six weeks in primary training. 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; weeks 7, 8, and 9 were 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.
The First Sergeant, Edwin Rue, was given the job – on December 26th – of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. Many of the men picked to be transferred to the company – from all the battalion’s companies – received promotions and because of their ratings received higher pay.
D Company moved into its barracks in December 1941. The barracks were adjacent to the Roosevelt Ridge Training Area. The men assigned to the Hq Company still lived with the D Company since their barracks were unfinished. 25 men lived on each floor of the barracks. The bunks were set up along the walls and alternated so that the head of one bunk was next to the foot of another bunk allowing for more bunks to be placed in the least amount of space allowing for 50 men to sleep on each floor. The first sergeant, staff sergeant, and master sergeant had their own rooms. There was also a supply room, an orderly room – where the cooks could sleep during the day – and a clubroom. The company shared its mess hall with A Company until that company’s mess hall was finished.
The one problem they had was that the barracks had four, two-way speakers in it. One speaker was in the main room of each floor of the barracks, one was in the first sergeant’s office, and one was in the captain’s office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. The men assigned to Hq Company moved into their own barracks by February. The guardsmen were housed away from the regular army troops in the newly built barracks. Newspapers from the time state that the barracks were air-conditioned.
The biggest problem facing the unit was the lack of equipment. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. The companies received new trucks and motorcycles in the Spring of 1941.
The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
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. Afterwards, they attended the various schools which they had been assigned to on January 13, such as mechanics, tank driving, radio operating. The classes lasted for 13 weeks. All classes the tankers attended were under the command of the 1st Armored Division.
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 they ate they stood in line to wash their mess kits since they had no mess hall. About January 12, 1941, their mess hall opened and they ate off real plates with forks and knives. They also no longer had to wash their own plates since that job fell on the men assigned to Kitchen Police. 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 February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
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.
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. 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 1940, he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana, from September 1st through 30th. 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.”
It was after these maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox as they had expected. On the side of a hill, the battalion learned it was being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours, the tankers had figured out that PLUM stood for the Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those men 29 years old, or older, were allowed to resign from federal service and were replaced by men of the 753rd Tank Battalion, and the battalion received the tanks of the 753rd. The decision to send the battalion to the Philippines was made on August 15, 1941.
The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island, with a large radio transmitter, hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day when another squadron of planes was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up. A fishing boat with a tarp covering something on its deck was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, Ithe fishing boat was not intercepted. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd Tank Battalion and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. The soldiers also put cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust. Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
Traveling west over different train routes, the battalion arrived in San Francisco and ferried to Angel Island on the ferry General Frank M. Coxe. On the island, the tankers were immunized and given physicals. Men found to have treatable medical conditions were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. They 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. On Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. It was about November 11th that they arrived at Wake Island to pick up food and water and drop off B-17 ground crew personnel.
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 intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal.
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 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, the tankers were met by Gen. Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed. He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents. The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived. He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner – which consisted of stew thrown into their mess kits – before he left to have his own dinner.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise 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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons. They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts. The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
After arriving in the Philippines, the process was begun to transfer D Company to the 194th Tank Battalion, which had left for the Philippines minus one company. B Company of the battalion was sent to Alaska while the remaining companies of the battalion were sent to the Philippines. The medical clerk for the192nd spent weeks organizing records to be handed over to the 194th.
On December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. The 194th, with D Company, was assigned northern part of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern half. Two members of each tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles at all times.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the company was brought up to full strength at the perimeter of Clark Field. All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes. At noon the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch.
John recalled that the tankers were loading their gun belts and saw planes approaching Clark Airfield from the west with the sun behind them. He was across the airfield with Robert Brooks looking at a P-40. The two soldiers decided that the planes didn’t look right and began running toward their tank. Bombs began exploding and buildings began blowing up. One of the explosions knocked John to the ground. He recalled that Robert Brooks ran past him. He did not know what happened to Brooks until the air raid was over.
As John lay on the ground, dirt from a bomb hit him in the face. It was so hot that it burnt his face and stuck to it. He got up and ran to his tank. As he got to it, he remembered that he was sweating so hard that the dirt turned into mud and ran down his face.
An officer came up to the tanks to see how the men were doing. He asked John if he was hurt. John didn’t know, so he had to get out of the tank and let the officer look him over. The only thing wrong with him was blisters where the dirt had hit his face.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed.
One of the results of the attack was that the transfer of D Company, to the 194th, was never completed. The company retained its designation of being part of the 192nd for both the Battle of Luzon and the Battle of Bataan.
The companies were moved again on the 12th to the south of San Fernando near the Calumpit Bridge arriving there at 6:00 A.M. On December 13, the tankers were moved 80 kilometers from Clark Field to do reconnaissance and guard beaches. On the 15th, the battalion received 15 Bren gun carriers but turned some over to the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. These were used to test the ground to see if it could support tanks.
John and the other tankers were sent north to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese were landing. When they got there, they were positioned behind a mountain. John recalled, “Well, some of us walked up the mountain and the men were just sitting. They had artillery, plenty of guns in the mountains, and they just sat there and watched the ships. Everything was ready, but no man was allowed to fire a shot.”
The tankers walked down the mountain and waited. They received orders to drop back from the mountain and let the Japanese occupy it. They watched as the Japanese brought their equipment to the top of the mountain. The Americans then started a counterattack which failed.
On December 22, the companies were operating north of the Agno River and after the main bridge was bombed, on December 24/25, it made an end run to get south of the river and not be trapped by the Japanese. The tanks held the south bank of the river from west of Carmen to the Carmen-Akcaka-Bautista Road with the 192nd holding the bank east of Carmen to Tayug (northeast of San Quintin).
Christmas Day, the tankers spent in a coconut grove. As it turned out, the coconuts were all they had to eat. From Christmas to January 15, 1942, both day and night, all the tanks did was cover retreats of different infantry units. The tanks were constantly bombed, shelled, and strafed.
The tanks formed a new defensive held the Santa Ignacia-Gerona-Santo Tomas- San Jose line on December 26th. When they dropped back from the line, all the platoons withdrew, except one which provided cover, as the other platoons from the area. One tank went across the line receiving fire and firing on the Japanese.
At Bayambang, Lt. Petree’s platoon lost a tank. It was at this time that D Company, 192nd, lost all their tanks, except one, because the bridge they were supposed to cross had been destroyed. The company commander, Lt. Jack Altman, could not bring himself to totally destroy the tanks, and the Japanese repaired them and used them on Bataan. The sergeant of the one tank, that had not abandoned, found a place to ford the river a few hundred yards from the bridge.
The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29. On January 1, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5. Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River. Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted. From January 2 to 4, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.
At 2:30 A.M., the night of January 5/6, the Japanese attacked at Remedios in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6/7 the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leapfrog past it, cross the bridge, and then cover the 192nd’s withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M. It was at this time that the tank companies were reduced to three tanks each. This was done to provide tanks to D Company, while those crews still without tanks were used as replacements,
At Gumain River, on January 5, D Company and C Company, 194th, were given the job to hold the south riverbank so that the other units could withdraw. The tank companies formed a defensive line along the bank of the river. When the Japanese attacked the position at night, they were easy to see since they were wearing white t-shirts. The tankers were able to hold up the Japanese.
The night of January 6/7, the 194th, covered by the 192nd, crossed the bridge over the Culis Creek and entered Bataan. This was the beginning of the Battle of Bataan. At this time, the food rations were cut in half.
General Weaver also issued the following orders to the tank battalions around this time. “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
A composite tank company was created on January 8 under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Company, 192nd, and sent to defend the Wast Coast Road north of Hermosa. Its job was to keep the north road open and prevent the Japanese from driving down the road before a new battle line had been formed. The Japanese never launched an attack allowing the defensive line to be formed. The tanks withdrew after they began receiving artillery fire.
The remainder of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Aubucay-Hacienda Road. While there, the tank crews had their first break from action in nearly a month. The tanks, which were long overdue for maintenance, were serviced by 17th Ordnance. It was also at this time that tank platoons were reduced to ren tanks, with three tanks in each platoon. This was done so that D Company, 192nd, would have tanks.
The 194th was sent to reopen the Moron Road so that General Segunda’s forces, which were trapped behind enemy lines, could withdraw. Attempting to do this two tanks were knocked out by landmines planted by ordnance but recovered, and a Japanese anti-tank gun was destroyed. The mission was abandoned the next day. Gen. Segunda’s forces escaped but lost their heavy equipment.
The next action the tanks saw was on the 20th when they were sent to relieve the 31st Infantry’s command post. On the 24th, the tanks were ordered to the Hacienda Road to support infantry but again could not accomplish their mission because of landmines planted by ordnance.
The 194th was holding a position a kilometer north of the Pilar-Bagac Road on January 26 with four self-propelled mounts. At 9:45 A.M., a Filipino came down the road and warned the battalion that a large Japanese force was coming down the road. When they appeared the tanks opened fire on them. At 10:30, the Japanese withdrew having lost 500 of 1200 men. This action prevented the new line of defense from being breached.
On January 28, the tank battalions were given the job of guarding the beaches so that the Japanese couldn’t land troops. The 194th guarded the coastline against Japanese landings from Limay to Cabcaban. During the day, the tanks hid under the jungle canopy. At night they were pulled out onto the beaches. The battalion’s half-tracks had the job of patrolling the roads. At all times, the tanks were in contact with on-shore and off-shore patrols.
It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver, “Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal. If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay.”
For most of March, the situation Bataan was relatively quiet and the Japanese had been fought to a standstill. On one occasion, two tanks had gotten stuck in the mud, and the crews were working to free them. While they were doing this, a Japanese regiment entered the area. Lt. Colonel Ernest Miller ordered his tanks to fire on the Japanese at point-blank range. He also ran from tank to tank directing the crew’s fire. The Japanese were wiped out. On March 21, the last major battle was fought by the tanks.
Having brought in combat harden troops from Singapore, the Japanese launched a major offensive on April 3. The tanks were sent to various sectors in an attempt to stop the advance. On the 6th, four tanks were sent to support the 45th Philippine Infantry, Philippine Scouts. One tank was knocked out from anti-tank fire at the junctions of Trails 6 & 8, and the other tanks withdrew. On April 8th, the 194th was fighting on the East Coast Road at Cabcaban.
John recalled that on Bataan the tanks were used to counterattack. They would fall back so far and then attack. They did this all the way to Bataan. He stated that when the tanks had been pushed back as far as they could be pushed back, they had to hold their positions. To keep the ill-trained Filipinos in position, they had U. S. troops behind them with holders to kill anyone who ran. If they stayed, the Japanese killed them. John stated that the smell of the dead was terrific.
John said that he and the other men searched for food. They ate birds, monkeys, and other animals. They ate so much that it became hard for them to find anything to eat.
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.”
When the order was given, the tankers circled their tanks, fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front, opened up the gasoline cocks in the crew compartment, and dropped hand grenades into each tank.
When John received the order to surrender, he and other members of his company made their way to the coast. They boarded a small and sailed for Corregidor. The Japanese attempted to sink the boat by bombing and shelling the boat. It was only when the boat got close enough to Corregidor that the planes stopped the attack, but the guns still fired at them.
On Corregidor, John and the other men were sent to the Malanta Tunnel. He stated that the tunnel was so crowded that the men in it were suffocating. Someone said that food was being served in a large mess hall so John went to get some.
Not too long after John got there, the food was served. Suddenly, the air raid signal went off and soldiers ran for cover leaving their food behind. John got up to take cover, but when he saw the food he decided that he wasn’t going to leave it. As he sat there eating, a bomb hit destroying a corner of the building. John just sat there and loaded up on food.
John stayed on Corregidor for a few days until an officer began talking to him. He later came back at night and offered him the chance to go to Ft. Drum. As they walked along the pier to reach the boat, the tankers stole food from crates. When they looked at what they had stolen, one had coffee, the other sugar, and the third had dried milk.
When John and the other men got to Ft. Drum, the soldiers gave them clothing to wear. He felt they couldn’t do enough for them because they had fought on Bataan. John was sick and should have been in the hospital. But, when he smelled the food he went to eat. He went back a second time and would have gone again if he hadn’t felt so bad from his fever.
John spent time in the fort’s hospital until he recovered. He then was put on guard duty on top of the fort. He felt that he and the other Bataan men were given easy jobs while the men from the fort did the hard work.
The Japanese attempted to get the fort to surrender by bombing it. Many of the bombs hit the water killing fish. John remembered that the Ft, Drum men rowed out and collected the fish to eat.
John recalled that they received the word of the surrender. The Americans lined up on top of the fort and waited until the Japanese arrived. The Japanese took anything they wanted from the Prisoners of War. John recalled he was searched several times.
The POWs were boarded onto the boats and taken to a dock that had been damaged during the Battle of Bataan. The prisoners worked filling the hole in the dock with rocks. As he worked, a Japanese guard noticed that John had good shoes. John attempted to avoid him by moving around, but the guard finally motioned to him that he wanted to trade shoes. John motioned that the guard’s shoes were too small, so the guard solved the problem by cutting off the toes of his shoes.
John and the other men worked under the hot Filipino sun. He soon developed blisters. The worse part was that his toes hurt hanging out of the end of the shoes on the hot rock. To stop burning his toes, John walked around holding his toes up in the air.
When the work was finished, John and the other POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison. He was next sent to Cabanatuan #1. John came down with malaria for a second time while at Cabanatuan. He also suffered from beriberi while there. John swelled up like a balloon. On June 10, 1942, he was in the camp hospital.
Even though he was sick, John was put in charge of the wood detail. The Japanese guards allowed the POWs to buy food from the Filipinos, but they were supposed to eat everything before returning to the camp. John was given the job of searching the other POWs. The only man not searched was John.
Since he wasn’t searched, John smuggled food into the camp. On one occasion John was caught trying to smuggle in a box Ponchitas a Filipino sugar candy. The Japanese guard who caught John made him sit down and eat the entire box.
John became ill again and lost his job on the detail. He also developed a knot in his groin. The knot made it difficult for John to walk unless he leaned backward. He also spent eight days during which time he could not urinate. To prevent him from killing himself, the doctors would not allow him to have a great deal of water during this time.
During this time, John was put in a truck and sent to another camp. The fact he was put on the truck meant that even the Japanese thought he looked ill. It was at this time that John was reunited with his brother. When Campbell saw him, he told John that John wasn’t going to make it. John told Campbell he would. Campbell then went out and got duck eggs for John to eat. John tried to eat one but wasn’t too successful at eating it.
Campbell next took rice that had been cooked and let it dry out. He then took a bottle and ground the rice into a powder. Campbell poured the bottle into the water and told John to drink it. John did what he was told. To his amazement, John began urinating again.
Not too long after this, John went out on a work detail. While on the detail, he became ill again and was returned to Cabanatuan #1. He was put in the dysentery section of the hospital. A soldier he did not know gave him quinine to take. Before he gave him the quinine, he made John promise that he would not sell the medicine. John took it all.
It was at this time that John convinced a doctor to put him on a list of men to be sent to Japan. If the doctor had been caught, both men could have been shot. The ship that John was on was the Clyde Maru. The ship left Manila on July 23, 1943, and arrived at Moji, Japan on August 7, 1943. What John remembered about his trip to Japan was that several of the ships in the convoy had been sunk by American submarines.
John was sent to Fukuoka #17, where the barracks for the POWs at the camp were 20 feet wide by 120 feet long. Each one was divided into ten rooms which were shared by four to six POWs each.
The POWs worked in a condemned coal mine that went under the sea. They worked bent over since they were taller than the average Japanese miner. At the mine, each prisoner was expected to load three cars of coal a day. The POWs worked 12 hour work days in areas of the mine which had cracks in the ceiling indicating a cave-in might take place. One was known as the “hotbox” because of its temperatures. To get out of working, the POWs would intentionally have their arms broken by another POW.
Daily meals consisted of seven spoonfuls of water and one fourth a cup of very poor quality watery rice a day. To supplement their diets, the prisoners also ate dog meat, radishes, potato greens, and seaweed. To get a meal, when entering the food line, the POWs had to shout out their number, in Japanese, and another man would put a nail in a hole opposite the man’s number on a wooden board. The nails remained on the board until all the POWs had been fed when they were removed before the next meal.
Corporal punishment was an everyday occurrence at the camp. The guards beat the POWs for the slightest reason and continued until the POW was unconscious. The man was then taken to the guardhouse and put in solitary confinement without food or water for a long period of time.
On one occasion in November 1944, shirts had been stolen from a bundle, sent by the British Red Cross, from a building. The Japanese ordered all the POWs to assemble and told them that they would not be fed until the shirts were returned. The men who stole the shirts returned the shirts anonymously, and the POWs received their meal at 10:00 P.M.
During the winter, the POWs, being punished, were made to stand at attention and had water thrown on them as they stood in the cold, or they were forced to kneel on bamboo poles. It is known that the POWs were made to stand in water and shocked with electrical current. At some point, two POWs were tied to a post and left to die. This was done they had violated a camp rule.
Life at Fukuoka #17 was hard and there were prisoners who would steal from other prisoners, especially clothing. To prevent this from happening, the POWs would “buddy-up” with each other. While one man was working in the mine, the POW who was not working would watch the possessions of the other man.
In addition, the sick were forced to work. The Japanese camp doctor allowed the sick, who could walk, to be sent into the mine. Men who had one good arm were made to lift heavy loads. He also took the Red Cross medical supplies meant for the POWs for his own use and failed to provide adequate medical treatment. Food that came in the packages was eaten by the guards.
During his time at the camp, he suffered from beriberi. While he was there, the camp was hit by bombs from American planes. The American section of the camp was badly damaged, so they moved in with the British and Dutch POWs.
On August 9, 1945, some of the POWs saw the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Those who saw it described that it was a sunny day and that the explosion still lit up the sky. The pillar of smoke that rose from the bomb was described as having all the colors of the rainbow. Afterward, the POWs saw what they described as a fog blanketing Nagasaki which seemed to have vanished.
John recalled that he was sick and did not go to work and was in the mess hall when the camp shook. At first, the POWs thought the event was an earthquake. It was only when the shock wave hit the camp that the POWs knew that it was not an earthquake. The mess hall leaned over on a forty-degree angle but straightened out. He and the other POWs ran out of the building and saw a mushroom-shaped cloud across the bay over Nagasaki.
The POWs went to work and talked to the Japanese civilians who spoke about how those, who had survived the blast, would touch their heads and pull out their hair. They stated these Japanese died within days. They also told of how they heard about a detachment of Japanese soldiers sent into Nagasaki to recover victims and how its members suffered the same fate.
When the POWs came out of the mine, they found that the next shift of POWs was not waiting to go to work. That night, the POWs were made to stand at attention for two hours. They all had their blankets because they believed they were going to be moved. Instead, they were returned to their barracks. The next day, when it was their turn to go to work, they were told it was a holiday, and they had the day off. They knew something was up because they had never had a holiday off before this.
Several days later, the POWs discovered that the old guards had vanished from the camp and had been replaced with new guards. The new interpreter told the POWs that the war was over and that Japan and the United States were now friends. They were also told to stay in the camp. After this was done, the former POWs discovered that these new guards all could speak English. It turned out they had all attended school in the United States. The Americans returned the rifles to the Japanese who stood guard against the Japanese civilians. A few days later, American planes flying over the camp. The men painted a big POW on one of the roofs of a barracks. The pilots saw the sign and dove on the camp. As hey flew over, they dropped notes to the former POWs.
The POWs found inside a warehouse with Red Cross packages and distributed the packages to the camp. One day, George Weller, a reporter for the Chicago Daily News entered the camp. He told the POWs that there were American troops on Honshu. John decided that he wanted to see what the bomb had done to Nagasaki. He and another POW dressed in old Japanese clothing and rubbed a brown substance on their skin to hide their identities. They walked to Nagasaki and found where the bomb had hit. John stated that all that was standing were a few standpipes. He was amazed to see railroad cars lying on their sides blocks from the tracks. He remembered that he picked up a rock in his hand and crumbled it. He also said iron pipes could be bent in a man’s bare hands.
One of the worst things that John saw were the bodies of the dead still sitting on benches or in foxholes. The worst thing about the sight was that the bodies had no flesh left on them. He was soon spotted and taken back to the camp. The camp was liberated on September 13, by a POW Recovery Team and on September 18, at 7:09 A.M., the POWs left the camp and were taken to the Dejima Docks at Nagasaki, where they boarded a ship and were returned to the Philippines.
One problem the men faced was crossing the bay. John and his group came up with 150 yen to pay for the trip on a small boat. About two-thirds across the bay, a storm hit. The boat’s captain wanted to turn around, but he was convinced to continue the trip by knifepoint. After the storm came to an end, they found themselves back where they had started.
The former POWs next attempted to reach American troops on foot. They finally met some American troops and it was arranged for them to be flown Okinawa and next to the Philippines. To do this, John was taken to Yokohama and boarded on a plane on September 11. In the Philippines, John was reunited with his brother, Campbell. John, being a healthier POW, returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Storm King arriving at San Francisco on October 15, 1944. When he arrived, he noted it was almost four years, to the day, since he had left for the Philippines. He was taken to Letterman General Hospital for further medical treatment.
John returned to Harrodsburg and married Gladys Moore. The couple became the parents of two daughters and three sons. He spent the rest of his life in Harrodsburg and passed away on September 23, 1968, in McCreary County, Kentucky, after a long illness. After a funeral service at Burgin Baptist Church, he was buried at Springhill Cemetery in Harrodsburg.