Little is known about Capt. Ruben H. Schwass’s early life except that he was born on July 5, 1901, and was the son of Henry & Augusta Schwass. With his brother, Chris, he grew up in Proviso Township, Cook County, Illinois. There is also evidence that his family had a long history of residing in River Forest, Illinois.
Capt. Ruben H. Schwass lived at 1305 West Chicago Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois, with his wife, Helen, and his daughter, Ruth. He was employed, as a meter inspector, by the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois as a meter tester.
Ruben joined the Illinois National Guard’s Sixty Sixth Brigade, in Oak Park, Illinois, on July 14, 1924, as a private and remained in the unit through maneuvers in August 1940. He rose through the ranks and resigned from the National Guard as a Master Sergeant on November 19, 1940. He reenlisted four days later and was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant on November 23, 1940, he was reassigned to the 33rd Tank Company of the Illinois National Guard in Maywood.
On November 25, Ruben was called to federal service when the tank company was federalized. With this order, the name of the company was changed to Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. The company traveled by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. On April 7, 1941, he was promoted to captain and became the battalion’s supply officer.
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.
At 4:30, the soldiers called it a day and returned to their barracks and put on dress uniforms and at five held retreat and followed by dinner at 5:30. After dinner, they were off duty and lights were out at 9:00 P.M., but they did not have to turn in until 10:00 when Taps was played.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16th, the battalion was broken into four detachments for a three-day tactical road march. The most important part of this march was to train the soldiers in loading, unloading, and setting up the battalion’s administrative camps. It also prepared them for the Louisiana maneuvers which they were scheduled to take part in during September.
The battalion 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 were the battalion’s kitchens), and 1 ambulance. The battalion 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 on Wednesday, June 18th through Lebanon, New Haven and Hodgenville, Kentucky.
In the late summer of 1941, the tank battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers from September 1 through 30. The entire battalion was loaded onto trucks and sent in a convoy to Louisiana while the tanks and wheeled vehicles were sent by train.
During the maneuvers that tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack and in support of infantry tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. 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. Some felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
During their 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. At some point, the battalion also went from fighting in the Red Army to fighting for the Blue Army.
One of the major problems was snake bites. It appeared that every other man was bitten at some point by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snakebit kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the nights 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 struck 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.
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.
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 in a wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out.
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.
At night a number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without 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.
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 and other units. The decision to send the battalion to the Philippines was made in August 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, who was flying at a lower altitude – noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island that a large radio transmitter. The island was hundreds of miles away. The squadron continued its flight plan and flew south to Mariveles before returning to Clark Field. When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day.
The next day, another squadron was sent to the area and found that the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat that was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was poor, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
Many of the members of the battalion were given leaves home. When they returned to Camp Polk, the loaded their tank on flatcars and traveled west by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco. Arriving there, they were taken by the ferry, the U.S.A.T. Gen. Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville, and, another transport, the U.S.A.T. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline. According to a letter written by one man, the ships stopped at Wake Island before sailing for Guam.
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. Two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan, while two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters carrying scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. 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., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. A Marine was checking off their names as they left the ship. When someone 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.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King. The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they all received dinner before he went to have his own. The enlisted men’s dinner was described by one member of the battalion as a “slumgullion” (a stew) slung onto their mess kits. Being an officer, he was invited to have dinner with the 194th Tank Battalion. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
The area was near the end of a runway used by B-17s for takeoffs. The planes flew over the tents at about 100 feet blowing dirt everywhere and the noise from the engines as they flew over was unbelievable. At night, they heard the 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.
The day started at 5:15 with reveille and anyone who washed near a faucet with running water was considered lucky. At 6:00 A.M. they ate breakfast followed by work – on their on the tanks and other equipment – from 7:00 A.M. to 11:30 A.M. Lunch was from 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. when the soldiers returned to work until 2:30 P.M. The shorter afternoon work period was based on the belief that it was too hot to work in the climate. The term “recreation in the motor pool” – which they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon. It was during this time that Spencer was assigned to Headquarters of the Provisional Tank Group.
For recreation, the soldiers spent their free time bowling or going to the movies on the base. They also played horseshoes, softball, badminton, or threw footballs around during their free time. On Wednesday afternoons, they went swimming. Men were given the opportunity to be allowed to go to Manila in small groups.
At Ft. Stotsenburg, the soldiers were expected to wear their dress uniforms. Since working on the tanks was a dirty job, the battalion members wore coveralls to do the work on the tanks. The 192nd followed the example of the 194th and wore coveralls in their barracks area to do work on their tanks, but if the soldiers left the battalion’s area, they wore dress uniforms everywhere; including going to the PX.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the China Sea. On Monday, December 1, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers. The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern end of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern end. At all times, two members of each tank and half-track remained with their vehicles. Meals were served to the tankers from food trucks.
On the morning of December 8, 1941, all the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of the airfield. They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield. As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.
In December 1941, Capt. Ruben Schwass and the other members of 192nd Tank Battalion found themselves involved in some of the first combat action of World War II involving American tank personnel. In March, his wife received a telegram from him, but no information is available about what he said.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
At 6:30 P.M. the tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
Before the jeeps could leave to contact the Japanese, the biggest problem they had was finding white clothe for flags. It turned out that Sgt. Phil Parish remembered he had white bedding in the back of his truck which became the white flags flown on the jeeps. The night of April 8, at 2:oo A.M. Gen. King sent the jeep carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier, and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender.
The jeeps returned to American lines shortly after daylight and Collier and Hunt informed Gen. King of the appointment. At 6:45 A.M. the tanks crews received the order “crash.” The tank crews circled their tanks. Each tank fired an armor-piercing shell into the engine of the tank in front of it. They also opened the gasoline cocks inside the tank compartments and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. Most of the company waited in their bivouac for the Japanese to make contact, while others attempted to reach Corregidor which had not surrendered.
As King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company, 192nd, and spoke to them. He said to them, “I’m going to get us the best deal I can.” He also said, “When you get home, don’t ever let anyone say to you, you surrendered. I was the one who surrendered.”
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Wade R. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into the jeep, driven by Cpl. Bill Burns. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col Collier and Maj Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
On the morning of April 9, 1942, the company received word of Bataan’s surrendered to the Japanese and remained in their bivouac for two days before receiving orders to move. The Prisoners of War found a mule that they slaughtered and cooked for its meat. As they started to eat, a Japanese officer and soldiers showed up and took charge of the area. The Japanese order the POWs to move, and they made their way to the road that ran past their bivouac. Once there, they were ordered to kneel along both sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them went through the POWs possessions and took what they wanted.
After they had been searched, the members of the company drove their trucks to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Once there, they were herded onto an airfield and left in the sun. As they sat in the sun, without water, the POWs noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming in front of them. The POWs realized that the Japanese were forming a firing squad and that they were the intended victims.
Not too long after this, the POWs were marched to a schoolyard and ordered to sit once again in the sun without food or water. Behind them on the field, were four Japanese artillery pieces firing at Corregidor. Corregidor was also firing on the Japanese. Shells from the American fortress began landing among the POWs. The prisoners sought shelter but since there was none some of the POWs were killed. During this incident, the American artillery managed to knock out three of the four Japanese guns.
Once again, the POWs received orders to move. It was upon receiving this order that Ruben started what became known to the POWs as “the march.”
For the POWs, the three hardest things about the march were the hunger cramps, the thirst, and the useless killings of men who could not keep up with the column. Those who could no longer walk were left behind. He witnessed many men flattened into the ground by Japanese tanks as they headed south toward Mariveles
On the march, the POWs made their way to San Fernando where they were put in a bullpen. In one corner of the pen was a slit trench that was used as a toilet. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. After sitting in the sun for hours, the Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 100 men. They were marched to the train station and packed into small wooden boxcars known as “forty and eights.” Each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since there was no place for them to fall down. They rode the train to Capas where the living climbed out of the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O’Donnell. which was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942.
When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp as the POWs were executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again, but the Japanese never had a shortage of water. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp, and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The POWs received three meals a day. For breakfast, they were fed a half cup of soupy rice and occasionally some type of coffee. Lunch each day was a half of a mess kit of steamed rice and a half of cup of sweet potato soup. They received the same meal for dinner. All meals were served outside regardless of the weather.
There was not enough housing for the POWs and most slept under buildings or on the ground. The barracks were designed for 40 men but those did sleep in one slept in a barracks it was with as many 80 to 120 men.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Philippine Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use. A second truck with medical supplies sent by the Red Cross to the camp was turned away at the gate.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one medic – of the six medics assigned to care for 50 sick POWs in the hospital – was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. In an attempt to stop the spread of disease, the dead were moved to one area, and the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the cleaned area, and the area they had lain was scraped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The less sick from the hospital were required to dig latrines and were given a canteen of water that was expected to last three days. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day. The POWs on the burial detail often had dysentery and/or malaria. When they buried the dead, the next morning many were found sitting up in their graves or that the dead had been dug up by wild dogs. The Japanese finally acknowledged that they had to do something, so they opened a new camp at Cabanatuan.
His wife received a message from the War Department on May 2, 1942, which said:
“Dear Mrs. Schwass:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Captain Ruben H. Schwass, O&, 406,637, 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 make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
On June 1, 1942, the POWs formed detachments of 100 men each and were marched to Capas. There, they were put in steel boxcars with two Japanese guards. At Calumpit, the train was switched onto another line which took it to the barrio of Cabanatuan. The POWs disembarked and were taken to a schoolyard where they were fed cooked rice and onion soup. From there, they were marched to Cabanatuan POW Camp which had been the headquarters of the 91st Philippine Army Division and was known as Camp Pangatian.
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Shortly after arriving at the camp, four POWs were caught attempting to escape. The POWs were made to dig their own graves and stand in them facing a firing squad. After they were shot, a Japanese officer took his pistol and shot into each grave
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
In the camp, the Japanese instituted the “Blood Brother” rule. If one man escaped the other nine men in his group would be executed. POWs caught trying to escape were beaten. Those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed. It is not known if any POW successfully escaped from the camp.
The barracks in the camp were built to house 50 POWs, but most had between 60 to 120 POWs in them. The POWs slept on bamboo slats, without mattresses, bedding, or mosquito netting. Many quickly became ill. The POWs were assigned to barracks which meant that the members of their group lived together, went out on work details together, and would be executed together since they were Blood Brothers.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The detail was under the command of “Big Speedo” who spoke very little English. When he wanted the POWs to work faster, he told the POWs “speedo.” Although he was known to have a temper, the POWs thought he was fair. Another guard was “Little Speedo” who was smaller and also used “speedo” when he wanted the POWs to work faster. The POWs also felt he was pretty fair in his treatment of them.
“Smiley” was another guard who always had a smile on his face but could not be trusted. He was the meanest of the guards and beat men up for no reason. He liked to hit the POWs with the club. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Any prisoner who he believed was not working hard enough got knocked over with it. Each morning, after arriving at the farm, the POWs went into a tool shed to get their tools. As they left the shed, the guards hit them on their heads.
Other POWs worked in rice paddies. While working in the fields, the favorite punishment given to the men in the rice paddies was to have their faces pushed into the mud and stepped on by a guard to drive their faces deeper into the mud. Returning from a detail the POWs bought or were given, medicine, food, and tobacco, which they somehow managed to get into the camp even though they were searched when they returned.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in a while, they received bread.
During June, the first cases of diphtheria appeared in the camp. By July, it had spread throughout the camp. The Japanese finally gave the American medical staff anti-toxin to treat the POWs, but before it took effect, 130 POWs had died from the disease.
On 26 June 1942, six POWs were executed by the Japanese after they had left the camp to buy food and were caught returning to camp. The POWs were tied to posts in a manner that they could not stand up or sit down. No one was allowed to give them food or water and they were not permitted to give them hats to protect them from the sun. The men were left tied to the posts for 48 hours when their ropes were cut. Four of the POWs were executed on the duty side of the camp and the other two were executed on the hospital side of the camp.
In July 1942, the family received a second letter. The following is an excerpt from it. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Captain Ruben H. Schwass had not been reported as a casualty. The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of the surrender of Corregidor, May 7, until definite information to the contrary is received.
“Efforts to secure prisoner of war lists from the Philippines have not been successful to this date due to the lack of communication and the fact that the Japanese Government has not yet given permission for the Swiss representative and the International Red Cross delegates to make visits to prisoner of war camps in the islands. When the lists of prisoners are received, we will clear the name of your son and send you any additional information that we may have.”
The camp hospital was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died. According to records kept by the camp medical staff, Norman was admitted to the camp hospital on Monday, August 10, 1942, suffering from pellagra.
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and recaptured on September 21 and brought back to the camp. Their feet were tied together and their hands were crossed behind their backs and tied with ropes. A long rope was tied around their wrists and they were suspended from a rafter with their toes barely touched the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but later released.
On September 29, the three POWs were executed by the Japanese after being stopped by American security guards while attempting to escape. The American guards were there to prevent escapes so that the other POWs in their ten men group would not be executed. During the event, the noise made the Japanese aware of the situation and they came to the area and beat the three men who had tried to escape. One so badly that his jaw was broken. After two and a half hours, the three were tied to posts by the main gate and their clothes were torn off them. They also were beaten on and off for the next 48 hours. Anyone passing them was expected to urinate on them. After three days they were cut down and thrown into a truck and taken to a clearing in sight of the camp and shot.
In November of 1942, Ruben was sent to Japan on the “hell ship” the Nagato Maru. When the ship left for Japan, he was already extremely ill. On the ship, were other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion. One of these men was 2nd Lt. Ben Morin.
The ship arrived in Moji, Kyushu, Japan, on November 25, 1942, which was Thanksgiving Day. The POWs disembarked in bitter cold and wind and were next sent by train to Tanagawa which was outside of Osaka. The camp was a “hell hole” infested with lice. It was terribly cold during the winter, and the food was terrible with little or no protein. It was while he was a POW in Japan that his wife finally received word that he was a POW on December 10, 1942.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR HUSBAND CAPTAIN RUBEN H. SCHWASS IS A PRISONER OF WAR OF THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT IN PHILIPPINE ISLANDS LETTER OF INFORMATION FOLLOWS FROM THE PROVOST MARSHALL GENERAL=
ULIO THE ADJUTANT GENERAL=”
In maid-January 1943, Ruben and other officers were transferred to Zentsuji POW Camp. Since Ruben was extremely ill with dysentery, he was placed in the “infirmary” section of the camp. The chances of surviving an illness there were not very good since the medics had no medicine.
While Ruben lay ill in bed, his body was covered with lice. 2nd Lt. Ben Morin would visit him and clean him the best he could. In an attempt to delouse Ruben, Lt. Morin would remove Ruben’s shirt and pick the lice from it. Lt. Morin would also wash Ruben’s underwear in ice-cold water and hang them on the barbwire fence in the cold air to shock the lice. By doing this, Lt. Morin could clean the lice from the underwear and guarantee that Ruben had “clean” underwear for another day.
At the age of 42, Capt. Ruben H. Schwass died from dysentery and catarrh pneumonia on April 6, 1943, at 2:30 A.M. near Zentsuji Camp, Japan. According to Lt. Col. Ernest Miller of the 194th Tank Battalion, Schwass’ funeral was held on April 7th at 8:30 AM, with the officers, lined up on both sides of the path. The pallbearers brought the casket, which was covered with a black cloth, out of the bathhouse to benches and a salute was given. Those present sang, “Sleep Comrade Sleep,”
A chaplain said a prayer and next there was a minute of silence. Officers were posted in two lines from the bathhouse to the camp gate. The two chaplains led the procession followed by the pallbearers carrying the casket. At the gate, the pallbearers placed the casket on a galley cart and took his remains to the crematorium. It is known that 2nd Lt. Henry Knox and 2nd Lt. Ben Morin were two of his pallbearers. Both were members of the 192nd.
At 1:00 PM, Chaplain John May, of the Australian Army, Lt. Morin, and Lt. Knox went to the crematorium and picked up Schwass’ ashes. The three men took the ashes to the camp cemetery and buried them. They returned to the camp at 2:30.
His wife did not learn he had been transferred to Japan until August 4, 1943. On October 8, 1943, six months after his death, his wife received this telegram.
“THE SECRETARY OF WAR DESIRES ME TO EXPRESS HIS DEEPEST REGRET THAT YOUR HUSBAND CAPTAIN RUBEN H. SCHWASS WHO WAS PREVIOUSLY REPORTED A PRISONER OF WAR DIED SIXTH APRIL NINETEEN FORTY THREE IN A JAPANESE PRISONER OF WAR CAMP IN JAPAN AS A RESULT OF DYSENTERY PERIOD THE SECRETARY OF WAR ASKS THAT I EXPRESS HIS DEEP SYMPATHY IN YOUR LOSS AND HIS REGRET THAT THE UNAVOIDABLE CIRCUMSTANCES MADE NECESSARY THE UNUSUAL LAPSE OF TIME IN REPORTING YOUR SONS DEATH TO YOU CONFIRMING LETTER FOLLOWS=
“ULIO THE ADJ GEN.”
In 1943, his wife approached the National Jewish Welfare Board for information on him. It was through their efforts that she confirmed his death. A memorial service was held for Capt Ruben Schwass at Saint Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Melrose Park on October 23, 1943.
After the war, his remains were returned to the United States at the request of his family. On August 3, 1949, the remains, of Capt. Ruben H. Schwass, were reburied at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, next to his wife, Helen, who had passed away in early September 1944.