Pvt. John Strompolis was born on January 20, 1919, in Maywood, Illinois, to George T. Strompolis & Eleni M. Gounis-Strompolis. He grew up at 1916 South Sixtieth Court in Cicero, Illinois, with his three sisters and two brothers. While he was a child, his father died and his mother remarried. His family would later reside in Winfield, Illinois. After his second year of high school, he left school and went to work as a machine operator at automotive parts manufacturer.
John enlisted in the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company in Maywood. On November 25, 1940, the tank company was federalized as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. One group of 17 soldiers left Maywood on Wednesday, November 27 at 7:00 A.M. in a convoy of one command car (or jeep), two trucks carrying supplies, and three private cars owned by members of the company. The trip was not easy since for 120 miles the road was covered in ice which cleared up near Indianapolis. They had dinner and spent the night at Ft. Benjamin Harris in Indianapolis. After showering and getting cleaned up, they continued the trip. As they got closer to Ft. Knox. the weather got warmer and the snow disappeared. During the trip one of the main topics was were they going live in tents or barracks. They reached the base late in the day on Thursday and found they were housed in barracks for the night. After this night, they were assigned tents.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28th. From their armory, the soldiers marched west on Madison Street to Fifth Avenue, in Maywood, and then north to the Chicago & Northwestern train station. In B Company’s case, they rode on the same train as A Company from Janesville, Wisconsin. In Chicago, the train switched onto the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad which took them to Ft. Knox. Once at the fort they were met by Army trucks at the station which took them to the fort where they reunited with the men who drove. The soldiers lived in six-man tents which had stoves for heat since they were assigned to a newly opened area of the fort and their barracks were not finished.
The soldiers 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.
1st/Sgt. Richard Danca – on December 26th – was given the job of picking men to be transferred from the company to the soon to be formed HQ Company. 35 men were picked because they had special training. Many of these men received promotions and because of their rating received higher pay. The men assigned to the company still lived with the B Company since their barracks were unfinished until February.
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.
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.
It was at this time that he attended cook’s school and became a cook for B Company. While training, he became best friends with PFC Henry Deckert, who was also being trained as a cook and was also from Maywood. At this time, he also met Catherine Lloyd from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. He called her “Katie”.
B Company also moved into its barracks in January 1941. Most of the members of B Company were assigned to Barracks 53. 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. 50 men slept on each floor of the barracks. 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 sergeant’s office, and one was in the Lt. Donald Hanes’ office. Since by flipping a switch the speaker became a microphone, the men watched what they said. According to newspapers from the time, the barracks were air-conditioned.
The area outside the barracks was described as muddy and dusty most of the time. An attempt was made to improve the situation with the building of walkways and roads around the barracks.
It was also at this time that all the companies had 16 operational tanks and the first men from selective service were assigned to the companies. On January 10th, these men took their first tank ride and all of them had the chance to drive the tanks. They would permanently join the companies in March 1941.
During their free time during the week, the men could go to one of the three movie theaters on the outpost. They also sat around and talked. One group of soldiers became known as “The Chess Clique.” As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. Volleyball was also often played. At 9:00 P.M., when lights went out, most went to sleep.
On weekends, men with passes frequently went to Louisville which was 35 miles north of the fort, while others went to Elizabethtown sixteen miles south of the fort. Those men still on the base used the dayroom to read since it was open until 11:00 P.M.
At 7:00 A.M. on Monday, June 16, 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 battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to take part in maneuvers that covered all of Louisiana and part of Arkansas. At one point, the Red Army’s tanks, which the 192nd was a part of, broke through the Blue Army’s lines and on their way to overrun the Blue Army’s Headquarters when the maneuvers were canceled. Members of the 192nd believed this was because the Blue Army was commanded by General George Patton.
After the maneuvers, the members of the battalion were ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. None of them had any idea why they had not returned to Ft. Knox. The battalion members learned that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM. Within hours most had figured out that PLUM meant Philippines, Luzon, Manila. Those 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service. Most of the members of the battalion received leaves home to say their goodbyes.
The decision to send the 192nd overseas – which had been made in August 1941 – was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of a Japanese occupied island which was hundreds of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat – with a tarp on its deck – which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
After the companies were brought up to strength with replacements for the men released from federal service, the battalion was equipped with new tanks and half-tracks. The battalion traveled over three different railroad routes to Ft. Mason in San Francisco. They were ferried, on the U.S.A.T. Gen. Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.
On the island, the soldiers were inoculated and received physicals from the battalion’s medical detachment. Those who had minor medical issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date, while other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S.S. President Calvin Coolidge. Sunday night, November 9, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Dateline.
On Saturday, November 15, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon. The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country, while two other intercepted ships were Japanese freighters hauling scrap metal to Japan.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way. The ships entered Manila Bay, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning. At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner – which was stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20 was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the ragged World War I tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. 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” meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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 Tank Battalion 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 portion of the airfield and the 192nd guarded the southern portion. 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, just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the tankers were ordered the perimeter of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. All morning long as they sat on their tanks, they watched as American planes filled the sky. At noon, the planes landed.
During the morning of December 8, the tankers had just finished breakfast when they were told of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The tank crews were brought up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield and the battalion’s half-tracks were moved into position. As the tankers were having lunch, 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. When bombs began exploding on the runways, the tankers knew the planes were Japanese. Since they had few weapons that could be used against the Japanese, they could do is watch.
The tank battalion received orders on December 21 that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, where the bridge they were going used to cross the Agno River had been destroyed. The tankers made an end run to get south of the river and ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
On December 25, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27. The tankers fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28 and 29.
The tanks on December 31/January 1, were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridge over the Pampanga River, and about half the defenders withdrew. 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 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.
The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road. The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations. After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, under the command of Capt. Donald Hanes, B Co., 192nd. Its job was to protect the East Coast Road north of Hermosa open and to stop Japanese tanks attempting to use it to overrun the next defensive line that was forming. While in this position, the tanks were under constant enemy artillery fire. The rest of the tanks were ordered to bivouac south of the Abucay-Hacienda Road.
When word came that a bridge was going to be blown up, all the tanks were ordered out of the area, which included the composite company. This could have resulted in a catastrophe, but the Japanese did not take advantage of the situation.
The tanks bivouacked south of the Pilar-Bagac Road and about two kilometers from the East Coast Road. It had almost been one month since the tank crews had a rest and the tanks had maintenance work done on them by 17th Ordnance. It was also on this day that the tank platoons were reduced to three tanks per tank platoon. This was done so D Company, which had lost all its tanks, could have tanks. The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance. Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400-hour overhauls.
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.”
The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Hacienda Road on January 25. While holding the position, the 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, fought its way to the position at 3:00 A.M. One platoon was sent to the front of the column of trucks which were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
Later on January 25, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight. They held the position until the night of January 26/27, when they dropped back to a new defensive line roughly along the Pilar-Bagac Roads. When ordered to withdraw to the new line, the 192nd found that the bridge at Balanga, that they were supposed to use had been destroyed by enemy fire. To withdraw, they had to use secondary roads to get around the barrio, and tanks were still straggling in at noon.
The tank battalions, on January 28, were given the job of protecting the beaches. The 192nd was assigned the coastline from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan’s east coast, while the battalion’s half-tracks were used to patrol the roads. The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.
Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company – which was held in reserve – and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan. The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes. During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and offshore.
The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available. The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces. There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over the area.
The company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets – from January 23 to February 17 – to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line after a Japanese offensive was stopped and pushed back to the original line of defense. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket. Doing this was so stressful that each tank company was rotated out and replaced by one that was being held in reserve.
To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used. The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank. As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole. Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
The other method used to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. The driver gave the other track power resulting in the tank going around in a circle and grinding its way down into the foxhole. The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.
While the tanks were doing this job, the Japanese sent soldiers, with cans of gasoline, against the tanks. These Japanese attempted to jump onto the tanks, pour gasoline into the vents on the back of the tanks, and set the tanks on fire. If the tankers could not machine gun the Japanese before they got to a tank, the other tanks would shoot them as they stood on a tank. The tankers did not like to do this because of what it did to the crew inside the tank. When the bullets hit the tank, its rivets would pop and wound the men inside the tank. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
Since the stress on the crews was tremendous, the tanks rotated into the pocket one at a time. A tank entered the pocket and the next tank waited for the tank that had been relieved to exit the pocket before it would enter. This was repeated until all the tanks in the pocket were relieved.
What made this job so hard was that the Japanese dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets. But before this was done, one C Company tank which had gone beyond the American perimeter was disabled and the tank just sat there. When the sun came up the next day, the tank was still sitting there. During the night, its crew was buried alive, inside the tank, by the Japanese. When the Japanese had been wiped out, the tank was turned upside down to remove the dirt and recover the bodies of the crew. The tank was put back into use.
At the same time, the company took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23 to 29, the Quinawan-Aglaloma points from January 22 to February 8, and the Siliiam-Anyasan points from January 27 to February 13. The defenders successfully eliminated the points by driving their tanks along the Japanese defensive line and firing their machine guns. The 45th Infantry, Philippine Scouts followed the tanks eliminating any resistance and driving the Japanese Marines over the edge of the cliffs where they hid in caves. The tanks fired into the caves killing or forcing them out of them into the sea.
In February 1942, B Company was also given the job of defending a beach, along the east coast of Bataan, where the Japanese could land troops. One night while on this duty, the company engaged the Japanese in a firefight as they attempted to land troops on the beach. When morning came, not one Japanese soldier had successfully landed on the beach.
After being up all night, the tankers attempted to get some sleep. Every morning “Recon Joe” flew over attempting to locate the tanks. The jungle canopy hid the tanks from the plane. Walter Cigoi aggravated about being woken up, pulled his half-track on the beach and took a “pot shot” at the plane. He missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. Frank took cover under a tank.
After the attack, the tankers found Richard Graff and Charles Heuel dead, and Francis McGuire was wounded. Another man had his leg partially blown off. The tankers attempted to put the man in a jeep, but his leg got in the way. To get him into the jeep, his leg was cut off by T/4 Frank Goldstein.
The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat. The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten. They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry. To make things worse, the soldiers’ rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942. This meant that they only ate two meals a day.
The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantily clad blond on them. The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
In March, the amount of gasoline was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. At the same time, food rations were cut in half again. Also at this time, Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor.
The Japanese launched an all-out attack on April 3 with fresh troops brought in from Singapore. 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. The number of operational tanks also became more critical with C Company, 194th – which was attached to the 192nd – having only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle where they could not fight back. The situation was so bad that other troops avoided being near the tanks, and the 26th Cavalry turned down a tank company’s offer of assistance in a counter-attack.
On April 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an all-out attack supported by artillery and aircraft. A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano. This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.
A counter-attack was launched – on April 7 – by the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts which was supported by tanks. Its objective was to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, was attached to the 192nd and had only seven tanks left.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. Edward P. King decided that further resistance was futile, since approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6,000 troops who sick or wounded and 40,000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. His troops were on one-quarter rations, and even at that ration, he had two days of food left. He also believed his troops could fight for one more day.
At 2:oo A.M. April 9, Gen. King sent a jeep under a white flag carrying Colonel Everett C. Williams, Col. James V. Collier and Major Marshall Hurt to meet with the Japanese commander about terms of surrender. (The driver was from the tank group and the white flag was bedding from A Company.) Shortly after daylight Collier and Hunt returned with word of the appointment. It was at about 6:45 A.M. that tank battalion commanders received this order: “You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word ‘CRASH’, all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished.”
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.
Gen. King with his two aides, Maj. Cothran and Captain Achille C. Tisdelle Jr. got into a jeep carrying a large white flag. They were followed by another jeep – also flying another large white flag – with Col. Collier and Maj. Hurt in it. As the jeeps made their way north they were strafed and small bombs were dropped by a Japanese plane. The drivers of both jeeps and the jeeps were provided by the tank group and both men managed to avoid the bullets. The strafing ended when a Japanese reconnaissance plane ordered the fighter pilot to stop strafing.
About 10:00 A.M. the jeeps reached Lamao where they were received by a Japanese Major General who informed King that he reported his coming to negotiate a surrender and that an officer from Japanese command would arrive to do the negotiations. The Japanese officer also told him that his troops would no attack for thirty minutes while King decided what he would do.
After a half-hour, no Japanese officer had arrived from their headquarters and the Japanese attack had resumed. King sent Col. Collier and Maj. Hunt back to his command with instructions that any unit inline with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
Shortly after this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived. King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get insurances from the Japanese that his men would be treated as prisoners of war, but the Japanese officer – through his interpreter – accused him of declining to surrender unconditionally. At one point King stated he had enough trucks and gasoline to carry his troops out of Bataan. He was told that the Japanese would handle the movement of the prisoners. The two men talked back and forth until the colonel said through the interpreter, “The Imperial Japanese Army are not barbarians.” King found no choice but to accept him at his word.
On the morning of April 9, 1942, at 6:45, the tankers received the order “crash.” The soldiers hearing this destroyed their equipment. John and other members of B Company made their way to Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. When he reached the barrio, the situation was nothing but chaos and the Japanese had no idea how many Prisoners of War they had. He was one of seventeen members of the company who decided that they would attempt to reach Corregidor. The group slipped away and managed to get to a tug boat in the harbor and successfully reach Corregidor on the boat.
It is not known what duties John had on Corregidor, but he became a POW for the second time when the Japanese launched an all-out offensive on the island on May 6, 1942. He remained on Corregidor for a month in what was designated the Corregidor POW Camp, which was simply a portion of the beach on the island. When the POWs were removed from the island, they were taken directly to Cabanatuan.
During May or early June 1942, his parents received a message from the War Department.
“Dear Mrs. E. Strompolis:
“According to War Department records, you have been designated as the emergency addressee of Private John T. Strompolis, 20,600,466, who, according to the latest information available, was serving in the Philippine Islands at the time of the final surrender.
“I deeply regret that it is impossible for me to give you more information than is contained in this letter. In the last days before the surrender of Bataan, there were casualties which were not reported to the War Department. Conceivably the same is true of the surrender of Corregidor and possibly other islands of the Philippines. The Japanese Government has indicated its intention of conforming to the terms of the Geneva Convention with respect to the interchange of information regarding prisoners of war. At some future date, this Government will receive through Geneva a list of persons who have been taken prisoners of war. Until that time the War Department cannot give you positive information.
“The War Department will consider the persons serving in the Philippine Islands as “missing in action” from the date of surrender of Corregidor, May 7, 1942, until definite information to the contrary is received. It is to be hoped that the Japanese Government will communicate a list of prisoners of war at an early date. At that time you will be notified by this office in the event that his name is contained in the list of prisoners of war. In the case of persons known to have been present in the Philippines and who are not reported to be prisoners of war by the Japanese Government, the War Department will continue to carry them as “missing in action” in the absence of information to the contrary, until twelve months have expired. At the expiration of twelve months and in the absence of other information the War Department is authorized to make a final determination.
“Recent legislation makes provision to continue the pay and allowances of persons carried in a “missing” status for a period not to exceed twelve months; to continue, for the duration of the war, the pay and allowances of persons known to have been captured by the enemy; to continue allotments made by missing personnel for a period of twelve months and allotments or increase allotments made by persons by the enemy during the time they are so held; to make new allotments or increase allotments to certain dependents defined in Public Law 490, 77th Congress. The latter dependents generally include the legal wife, dependent children under twenty-one years of age and dependent mother, or such dependents as having been designated in official records. Eligible dependents who can establish a need for financial assistance and are eligible to receive this assistance the amount allotted will be deducted from pay which would otherwise accrue to the credit of the missing individual.
“Very Truly yours
J. A. Ulio (signed)
The Adjutant General”
The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrendered were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Once in the camp, the POWs were allowed to run the camp. The Japanese only entered if they had an issue they wanted to deal with. To prevent escapes, the POWs set up a detail that patrolled the fence of the camp. The reason this was done was that those who did escape and were caught were tortured before being executed, while the other POWs were made to watch. It is believed that no POW successfully escaped from the camp.
It is not known when, but his family received a message from the War Department stating that John had died. While he was at Cabanatuan, his family received this message from the War Department. The following is an excerpt from it.
“The last report of casualties received by the War Department from the Philippines arrived early in the morning of May 6. Through this date, Private John T. Strompolis 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.”
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.
John also recalled that he witnessed the execution of four POWs who had escaped and recaptured. The men were forced to dig their own graves and then shot. The Japanese camp commander, Colonel Mori stated he could not stop the execution since the orders came from Manila. John also recalled seeing Filipino soldiers beheaded by the Japanese. It should be mentioned that John’s mother, at some point, was informed by the Army that he was dead and she did not learn that he was a Prisoner of War until June 28, 1943.
“REPORT JUST RECEIVED THROUGH INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS STATES THAT YOUR SON PRIVATE JOHN T STROMPLOIS 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=”
Within days of receiving the first message, they received a second message:
“The Provost Marshal General directs me to inform you that you may communicate with your son, postage free, by following the inclosed instructions:
“It is suggested that you address him as follows:
“Pvt. John T. Strompolis., U.S. Army
Interned in the Philippine Islands
C/O Japanese Red Cross, Tokyo, Japan
Via New York, New York
“Packages cannot be sent to the Orient at this time. When transportation facilities are available a package permit will be issued you.
“Further information will be forwarded you as soon as it is received.
“Howard F. Bresee
“Chief Information Bureau”
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.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as “lugow” which meant “wet rice.” During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The camp hospital consisted of 30 wards that could hold 40 men each, but it was more common for them to have 100 men in them. Each man had approximately an area of 2 feet by 6 feet to lie in. The sickest POWs were put in “Zero Ward,” which was called this because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves and would not go into the area. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
John remained at Cabanatuan until October 1942, when he went out on a work detail to Nichols Field to build runways and revetments for the Japanese Navy. The detail was also known as the Pasay School Detail since the POWs were housed in the school. There were eighteen rooms in the schoolhouse and 30 POWs were assigned to sleep in each one. It should be mentioned that
Each morning the POWs got up and did calisthenics and were counted before they fed breakfast which was a fish head soup. The POWs were counted again and marched a mile to the airfield. While they marched, the Filipinos along the road showed sympathy for the Americans whose clothing had deteriorated to rags. This sympathy shown by the Filipinos angered the Japanese.
John recalled that the ranking American officer, Captain Henry Schutte Jr., protested the use of the POWs to build runways since it was in violation of the Geneva Convention. The result of his protest was that he was told that they would work, and he was beaten for protesting the order by the Japanese commanding officer who was known as “The White Angel” by the POWs. He was given this name because he always wore a spotless white naval uniform.
Although John never witnessed any POWs killed, he was very much aware that it was done. John stated that the White Angel was at his worse when he had been out on a drinking binge the previous night. The next day he ordered the POWs to line up and had the guards beat POWs that he selected.
After four months on the detail, John was sent back to Cabanatuan and remained in the camp for nearly a year when he was selected to go to Las Pinas to build airfields in October 1943. He recalled that the ranking American officer on this detail also protested the use of POWs to do this type of work and ended up with a broken arm.
The detail in his opinion was better than being at Cabanatuan, but the POWs had to work harder. John saw men intentionally injure themselves to get off the work detail. John witnessed one guard on the detail who was from Taiwan, Moto Mezou, stand up a number of POWs and beat them over their heads, backs, and arms with a pick handle.
In late 1944, John was sent to Manila. His name was on a list of POWs being sent to Manila for transport to Japan. John’s POW detachment was scheduled to be boarded on the Arisan Maru, but another ship, the Hokusen Maru, was ready to sail, but not all the POWs in the detachment assigned to the ship had arrived at the pier. Since John’s detachment was ready to sail, the Japanese swapped POW detachments so the ship could sail.
This decision saved his life since the Arisan Maru was sunk in the South China Sea by an American submarine. Only nine POWs of the nearly 1775 POWs on the ship survived the sinking.
The POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru on October 1 and moved to the harbor’s breakwater. It remained there for three days and the temperatures in the hold rose to over 100 degrees causing some men to go crazy. The Japanese threatened to kill the POWs if they didn’t quiet the men. To do this, the sane POWs strangled those out of their minds or hit them with canteens.
As part of a ten-ship convoy, it sailed again on October 4 and stopped at Cabcaban. The next day, it was at San Fernando La Union, where the ships were joined by four more ships and five escorts. The ships stayed close to the shoreline to prevent submarine attacks which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and sailed for Hong Kong. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived in Hong Kong on October 11. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16. On October 21, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24.
After he left the ship on November 8, John was sent Toroku Camp. The POWs were housed in a schoolhouse and the POWs did not have to do hard labor. Most did light farming, while those considered healthier worked in a sugar mill.
On January 25, 1945, John was taken to Takao and boarded the Enoshima Maru. The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on January 30th. After docking the POWs were taken to a schoolhouse but made to strip, in the cold, before being allowed to enter the school. The reason was that they were infested with lice.
It needs to be mentioned that John was listed on a roster of POWs, from Tokyo 4 and 5, who were sent to another camp. It is not known how long he was there and when he was there.
The POWs next were marched to the train station and rode the train to Osaka. On February 1, the Japanese opened a new camp Osaka #18-B. At the camp, the POWs were housed in a two-story schoolhouse and put to work as stevedores in the port for the Kamiguni Company. In the camp, the prisoners were still beaten; but, by this time, they were so used to it that it did not bother them. On May 21, 1945, the camp was closed and the POWs were sent to Maribara #10-B.
There, he worked building canals and draining lakes. They also worked at a steel mill and in warehouses outside of a railroad yard. The POWs were expected to salute the Japanese guards unless the POW did not have a hat, then he was expected to bow. If the Japanese believed the POWs were not working hard enough, they punched and kicked them. During his time in the camp, the treatment improved with the arrival of a new commandant.
The treatment given the POWs improved when a new commandant took over the camp. As the end of the war neared, the POWs received shoes and Japanese military uniforms, until finally, they were told they did not have to work.
Meals were primarily rice and mallet, but once in a while, the POWs working on the land reclamation were allowed to hunt for clams on the bottom of the lake. While they hunted, they boiled water to cook them. One Japanese guard who called himself “POW 201” hunted for clams for men too ill to do so for themselves and also bought them cigarettes.
One day a train stopped outside the camp and a man, who was not Japanese, wearing a khaki uniform walked up to the gate and asked to be let in. He entered the camp and told the men that the war was over.
The guards were standing nearby, but their guns were leaning against a building. The POWs rushed the guns and so did the guards. After a short struggle, the guards let go of the guns and left. To the POW’s this was the first proof that the war was over.
When the Japanese gave the POWs beer, they knew the war was over. On August 19, the camp commandant officially told them the war had ended. When American planes appeared and started to drop them supplies, the prisoners’ belief was confirmed.
John remained in the camp until September 10, 1945, when the former POWs were officially liberated. He was returned to the Philippines for medical treatment before returning to the United States. He was also promoted to Staff Sergeant.
His parents received this message from the War Department:
“Mr. and Mrs. George Stompolis: The secretary of war has asked me to inform you that your son, Pvt. John T. Strompolis was returned to military control Sept. 10 and is being returned to the United States within the near future. He will be given the opportunity to communicate with you upon his arrival if he has not already done so.
“E. F. Witsell
“Acting Adjutant General of the Army”
John returned sailed, on September 23, 1945, for the United States, on the U.S.A.T. General R. L. Howze, arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945. He was sent to Letterman Hospital for additional medical treatment.
John reenlisted, but this time in the U.S. Army Air Corps and on February 25, 1948, he was discharged and returned to Chicago. He married Barbara Wisniewski on June 16, 1956, and became the father of a son. He passed away on October 7, 1974, in Chicago and was buried at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.