Pvt. John Theodore Strompolis was born on January 20, 1919, to George T. Strompolis and Eleni M. Gounis-Strompolis – who were Greek immigrants – in Maywood, Illinois. He grew up at 640 W. Flournoy Street in Chicago and 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 an automotive parts manufacturer.
John enlisted in the Illinois National Guard’s 33rd Tank Company in Maywood. His reason for doing this was Selective Service Act was going into effect on October 16, 1940, and he wanted to complete his military commitment. The tank company had already been informed it was being called to federal service and was inducted into the U. S. Army on November 25, 1940, at 7:00 A.M. and designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. During this time, the soldiers were given physicals, and men who were inducted into the army that morning were released from federal service that afternoon after failing their physicals. The remaining men spent the next several days living in the armory. He was one of 131 men who traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for what was supposed to be a year of training.
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 to 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 with stoves for heat.
Most of the soldiers made the trip to Ft. Knox by train on Thursday, November 28. They marched down Madison to Fifth Avenue in Maywood Street 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. After the company’s equipment and two tanks were loaded onto the train, it entered Chicago, where the soldiers rode busses to the Illinois Central Station and boarded a train that 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 their barracks were not finished. The battalion had a total of eight tanks which they were ordered not to abuse.
A typical day for the soldiers started at 6:15 with reveille, but most of the soldiers were up by 5:45 since they wanted to wash and dress. After roll call, 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, pistols, 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. After lunch, the soldiers went back to work. 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. On 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. The game that many of the men began to play was chess and one group became known as “The Chess Clique.”
Members of the company received 4½ day furloughs home for Christmas, but it is not known who went home. Those who went home on leave rode two Grayhound busses home and returned to the base on them. For those who remained at Ft. Knox, the base was decorated with lighted Christmas trees along its streets, and each night Christmas carols were sung by a well-trained choir that went from barracks to barracks. The sight was said to be beautiful as the soldiers entered the camp from the ridge north of their barracks. The workload of the soldiers was also reduced for the holidays. Christmas dinner consisted of roast turkey, baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, snowflake potatoes, giblet gravy, oyster dressing, cranberry sauce, pickle relish, grapes, oranges, rolls, and fruit cake, ice cream, bread, butter, and coffee. After dinner, cigars, cigarettes, and candy were provided.
Those men who did go home arrived back at the base just before breakfast, which was at 6:00 A.M. on December 26. 1st/Sgt. Richard Danca was waiting for them since he had the job of picking men to be transferred 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. HQ Company was divided into a staff platoon, a reconnaissance platoon, a maintenance platoon, a motor platoon, and the usual cooks and clerks which every company had. Men were assigned various jobs such as scouts, radio operators, mechanics, truck drivers, and other duties.
B Company moved into its barracks in December 1940 and the men assigned to the HQ Company still lived with the company since their barracks were unfinished. 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. 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. The men assigned to HQ Company moved into their own barracks by February.
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. On 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.
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. As the weather got warmer, the men tried to play baseball as often as possible in the evenings. 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.
The lack of equipment was a major problem for the battalion. Many of the tanks were castoffs from the regular army or pulled from the junkyard at Ft. Knox and rebuilt by the tank companies. The tanks were also restricted in where they could be driven and very little training was done with the infantry. On December 2, each company received four additional tanks. According to information from the time, each company was scheduled to receive 17 tanks, three half-tracks, four motorcycles, two motorcycles with passenger cars, four, two-and-a-half-ton trucks, and a half-ton pickup truck. The men received training under the direction of the 69th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division. This was true for the tank crews and reconnaissance units who trained with the regiment’s tanks and reconnaissance units and later trained with their own companies.
Winter finally arrived on January 4, when the high for the day was 24 degrees and it snowed for the first time. Those on guard duty at night were happy they had been issued long-Johns but wished they had on two pairs. It was also in January that the companies had their first target practice and each company spent one week at the firing range learning to use their thirty caliber and fifty caliber machine guns as well forty-five caliber pistols. This took place at the 1st Cavalry Test range where the tanks could be maneuvered and the guns fired at the same time. All those holding the rank of Private First Class were sent to motorcycle class at the Armored Force where they were taught the functions and duties of a motorcyclist in a garrison and in combat. Ten members of the company were sent to radio school from 8:00 to 11:30 A.M. They also received their government-issued toiletries. Each man received two face towels and one bath towel, a razor, tooth and shaving brushes, and another pair of pants which completed their compliment of clothing.
Most of the men were attending the various schools they were assigned to on January 13 taking classes lasting until May 31. The tankers went through intensive training in the various classes at the Armored Force School which taught classes in gunnery, radio communications, tank maintenance, vehicle maintenance, tank driving, as well as other classes. The entire battalion on January 28, took part in a one-day problem that had to do with the deployment of large units of tanks and to put into practice what they had learned in the classroom. They were up at 5:00 A.M. and reported to the tank parks of the 1st and 13th Armor Regiments. It was a long tough day for all the soldiers, but they all believed they had learned more in that one day than they had learned in an entire week of school. It was also at this time that each company had a tent so they could make minor repairs to their tanks. It was noted that the men from every company seemed to enjoy working on their own tanks. They were also taking the tanks out on the trails and obstacle driving which resulted in the companies developing many good tank crews.
During February, four composite tank detachments made of men from all the companies of the battalion left Ft. Knox – on different dates – on problematic moves at 9:00 A.M. The detachments consisted of three motorcycles, two scout cars, sixteen tanks, one ambulance, and supply, fuel, and kitchen trucks. The route was difficult and chosen so that the men could become acquainted with their equipment. They also had to watch out for simulated enemy planes. Bridges were avoided whenever it was possible to ford the water. They received their rations from a food truck.
In late March 1941, the entire battalion was moved to new larger barracks at Wilson Road and Seventh Avenue at Ft. Knox. The barracks had bathing and washing facilities in them and a day room. The new kitchens had larger gas ranges, automatic gas heaters, large pantries, and mess halls. One reason for this move was the men from selective service were permanently joining the battalion.
On June 14 and 16, the battalion was divided into four detachments composed of men from different companies. Available information shows that C and D Companies, part of HQ Company and part of the Medical Detachment left on June 14, while A and B Companies, and the other halves of HQ Company and the Medical Detachment left the fort on June 16. These were tactical maneuvers – under the command of the commanders of each of the letter companies. The three-day tactical road marches were to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and back. Each tank company traveled with 20 tanks, 20 motorcycles, 7 armored scout cars, 5 jeeps, 12 peeps (later called jeeps), 20 large 2½ ton trucks (these carried the battalion’s garages for vehicle repair), 5, 1½ ton trucks (which included the companies’ kitchens), and 1 ambulance.
The detachments traveled through Bardstown and Springfield before arriving at Harrodsburg at 2:30 P.M. where they set up their bivouac at the fairgrounds. The next morning, they moved to Herrington Lake east of Danville, where the men swam, boated, and fished. The battalion returned to Ft. Knox through Lebanon, New Haven, and Hodgenville, Kentucky. At Hodgenville, the men were allowed to visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The purpose of the maneuvers was to give the men practice at loading, unloading, and setting up administrative camps to prepare them for the Louisiana maneuvers.
Congress on August 13, 1941, extended the time that federalized National Guard units serving in the regular army by 18 months. The next day, the commanding officer of the 192nd, Major Bacon Moore, was informed the 192nd would be going overseas, but it is not known if he shared this information with his officers.
The 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Louisiana, in the late summer of 1941, to take part in maneuvers. About half of the battalion left Ft. Knox on September 1st in trucks and other wheeled vehicles and spent the night in Clarksville, Tennessee, where they spent the night. By 7:00 A.M. the next morning, the detachment was on the move. On the second day, the soldiers saw their first cotton fields which they found fascinating. They spent the night in Brownsville, Tennessee, and were again on the move the following morning at 7:00 A.M. At noon, the convoy crossed the Mississippi River which they found amazing, and spent the night in Clarksdale, Mississippi. At noon the next day, the convoy crossed the lower part of Arkansas and arrived at Tallulah, Louisiana, where, they washed, relaxed, and played baseball against the locals. It also gave them a break from sitting on wooden benches in the trucks. The remaining soldiers, the tanks, and other equipment were sent by train and left the base on September 3. When they arrived at Tremont, Lousiana, the men, and trucks who had driven to Louisiana were waiting for them at the train station.
The battalion was assigned to the Red Army, attached to the Fourth Cavalry, and stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Two days later it made a two-day move, as a neutral unit, to Ragley, Louisiana, and was assigned to the Blue Army. The battalion’s bivouac was in the Kisatchi Forest where the soldiers dealt with mosquitoes, snakes, wood ticks, snakes, and alligators.
During the maneuvers, tanks held defensive positions and usually were held in reserve by the higher headquarters. For the first time, the tanks were used to counter-attack, in support of infantry, and held defensive positions. Some men felt that the tanks were finally being used like they should be used and not as “mobile pillboxes.” The maneuvers were described by other men as being awakened at 4:30 A.M. and sent to an area to engage an imaginary enemy. After engaging the enemy, the tanks withdrew to another area. The crews had no idea what they were doing most of the time because they were never told anything by the higher-ups. A number of men felt that they just rode around in their tanks a lot.
While training at Ft. Knox, the tankers were taught that they should never attack an anti-tank gun head-on. One day during the maneuvers, their commanding general threw away the entire battalion doing just that. After sitting out a period of time, the battalion resumed the maneuvers. The major problem for the tanks was the sandy soil. On several occasions, tanks were parked and the crews walked away from them. When they returned, the tanks had sunk into the sandy soil up to their hauls. To get them out, other tanks were brought in and attempted to pull them out. If that didn’t work, the tankers brought a tank wrecker from Camp Polk to pull the tank out of the ground.
It was not uncommon for the tankers to receive orders to move at night. On October 1st at 2:30 A.M., they were awakened by the sound of a whistle which meant they had to get the tanks ready to move. Those assigned to other duties loaded trucks with equipment. Once they had assembled into formations, they received the order to move, without headlights, to make a surprise attack on the Red Army. By 5:30 that morning – after traveling 40 miles in 2½ hours from their original bivouac in the dark – they had established a new bivouac and set up their equipment. They camouflaged their tanks and trucks and set up sentries to look for paratroopers or enemy troops. At 11:30, they received orders and 80 tanks and armored vehicles moved out into enemy territory. They engaged the enemy at 2:38 in the afternoon and an umpire with a white flag determined who was awarded points or penalized. At 7:30 P.M., the battle was over and the tanks limped back to the bivouac where they were fueled and oiled for the next day.
The one good thing that came out of the maneuvers was that the tank crews learned how to move at night. At Ft. Knox this was never done. Without knowing it, the night movements were preparing them for what they would do in the Philippines since most of the battalion’s movements there were made at night. The drivers learned how to drive at night and to take instructions from their tank commanders who had a better view from the turret. A number of motorcycle riders from other tank units were killed because they were riding their bikes without 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.
Snake bites were also a problem and at some point, it seemed that every other man was bitten by a snake. The platoon commanders carried a snake bite kit that was used to create a vacuum to suck the poison out of the bite. The bites were the result of the 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.
After the maneuvers, the battalion members expected to return to Ft. Knox but received orders to report to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was on the side of a hill the battalion learned that they had been selected to go overseas. Those men who were married or 29 years old or older were allowed to resign from federal service. They were replaced with men from the 753rd Tank Battalion. Both new and old members of the battalion were given leaves home to say their goodbyes. They returned to Camp Polk and prepared for duty overseas while once again living in tents. They were given M3A1 tanks – from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division – to replace their M2A2 tanks and half-tracks to replace their reconnaissance cars.
The decision to send the battalion overseas appeared to have been made well before the maneuvers. According to one story, the decision for this move – which had been made on August 15, 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 Taiwan which 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.
Many of the men believed that the reason they were selected to be sent overseas was that they had performed well on the maneuvers. The story was that they were personally selected by General George S. Patton who had commanded the tanks of the Blue Army to go overseas. There is no evidence that this was true.
The fact was that the battalion was part of the First Tank Group which was headquartered at Ft. Knox and operational by June 1941. During the maneuvers, they even fought as part of the First Tank Group. Available information suggests that the tank group had been selected to be sent to the Philippines early in 1941. Besides the 192nd, the group was made up of the 70th and 191st Tank Battalions – the 191st had been a National Guard medium tank battalion while the 70th was a Regular Army medium tank battalion – at Ft. Meade, Maryland. The 193rd was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and the 194th was at Ft. Lewis, Washington. The 192nd, 193rd, and 194th had been National Guard light tank battalions. It is known that the military presence in the Philippines was being built up at the time, so in all likelihood, the entire tank group had been scheduled to be sent to the Philippines. The buoys being spotted by the pilot may have sped up the transfer of the tank battalions to the Philippines with only the 192nd and 194th reaching the islands but it was not the reason the tank battalions were sent there. It is known that the 193rd was on its way to the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the battalion was held in Hawaii after arriving there. The 70th and 191st never received orders for the Philippines because the war with Japan had started.
The battalion’s new tanks came from the 753rd and the 3rd Armor Division and were loaded onto flat cars, on different trains. At 8:30 A.M. on October 20, over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California. Most of the soldiers of each company rode on one train that was followed by a second train that carried the company’s tanks. At the end of the second train was a boxcar followed by a passenger car that carried some soldiers. The company took the central route along through Northern Texas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. When they arrived in San Francisco, they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. When they got near Alcatraz, a soldier on the boat said to them, “I’d rather be here than going where you all are going.” On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion’s medical detachment. Men found to have minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced. The soldiers spent their time putting cosmoline on anything that they thought would rust.
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 2, and had a four-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Thursday, November 6, 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.
Smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon on Saturday, November 15. 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. Although they were not allowed off the ship, the soldiers were able to mail letters home before sailing for Manila the next day. At one point, the ships passed an island at night and did so in total blackout. This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm’s way.
The 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., as the enlisted man left the ship, a Marine was checking off their names. 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 with 17th Ordnance. Unlike when other ships arrived, there was no band or welcoming committee to meet them on the dock.
At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King Jr. 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 – stew thrown into their mess kits – before he went to have his own dinner. Had they been slower getting off the ship, they would have had a turkey 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 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 were heavy material and uncomfortable to wear in the tropical heat.
The 192nd arrived in the Philippines with a great deal of radio equipment to set up a radio school to train radiomen for the Philippine Army. The battalion also had a large number of ham radio operators and shortly after arriving at Ft. Stotsenburg, they set up a communications tent that was in contact with the United States within hours. The communications monitoring station in Manila went crazy attempting to figure out where all these new radio messages were coming from. When they were informed it was the 192nd, they gave them frequencies to use. Men were able to send messages home to their families that they had arrived safely.
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,” that they borrowed from the 194th Tank Battalion – meant they actually worked until 4:30 in the afternoon.
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.
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.
Ten days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the reconnaissance pilots reported that Japanese transports were milling around in a large circle in the South China Sea. On December 1, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. From this time on, two tank crew members remained with each tank at all times and were fed from food trucks. It was the men manning the radios in the 192nd’s communications tent who were the first to learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 8. Major Ted Wickord, the battalion’s commanding officer, Gen. James Weaver, and Major Ernest Miller, the CO of the 194th Tank Battalion, read the messages of the attack. The officers of the 192nd were called to the tent and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. All the members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to the south end of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
During the attack, the tankers watched as American pilots attempted to get their planes off the ground. As they roared down the runway, Japanese fighters strafed the planes causing them to swerve, crash, and burn. Those that did get airborne were barely off the ground when they were hit. The planes exploded and crashed to the ground tumbling down the runways.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing. That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10 and 13.
The tank battalion received orders on December 20th that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf to relieve the 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts. Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas. When they reached Rosario, there was only enough gas for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry. Lt. Ben Morin’s platoon approached Agoo when it ran head-on into a Japanese motorized unit. The Japanese light tanks had no turrets and sloped armor. The shells of the Americans glanced off the tanks. Morin’s tank was knocked out and his crew was captured. During this engagement, a member of another tank crew, Pvt. Henry J. Deckert, was killed by enemy fire and was later buried in a churchyard.
On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta where they got into a good fight with the Japanese. The bridge they were planning to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of the river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed the river in the Bayambang Province.
It was at this time that a platoon of B Company tanks found themselves on a road holding up the Japanese advance. Five tanks took a narrow road that led to the Japanese lines. The drivers of the tanks stayed close enough so that they could see the tank in front of their tank when a shell exploded behind one of the tanks. The tanks were trapped since there was no room for them to turn around. At Ft. Knox, they were taught that if you are lost, or trapped, to double your speed. The tanks hurdled down the road running through gun nests and running down Japanese soldiers. The tanks turned around, ran through the Japanese positions again, and escaped. On December 25th, 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 27th. The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan in the day, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. At Cabanatuan that the battalion got into a battle with the Japanese. The fight went on for three days and when the battalion withdrew, they left behind five Japanese tanks.
From December 31 to January 1, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. While holding the bridge, they received orders – from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff – about whose command they were under and they were told to withdraw from the bridge without Gen Johnathan Wainwright’s knowledge. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces and about half the defenders withdrew. When Gen. Wainwright became aware of the order, he countermanded the order. 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.
On 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 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 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 from 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 were 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 that were loading the troops. The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. Later that day, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdrawal 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.
From December 31 to January 1, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge keeping the bridge open for the Southern Luzon forces. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw into Bataan. While holding the bridge, they received orders – from Gen. MacArthur’s chief of staff – about whose command they were under and they were told to withdraw from the bridge without Gen Johnathan Wainwright’s knowledge. Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces and about half the defenders withdrew. When Gen. Wainwright became aware of the orders, he countermanded the order. 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.
After being up all night on the morning of February 3rd, 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. Sgt. Walter Cigoi aggravated about being woken up, pulled his half-track onto the beach, took a “pot shot” at the plane, and missed. Twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared and bombed the position. Most of the soldiers took cover under the tanks. When the attack was over, the tankers found Pvt. Richard Graff and Pvt. Clemath Peppers dead. Pvt. Francis McGuire was wounded and Pvt. Charles Heuel was severely wounded with his leg partially blown off. The tankers attempted to put him in a jeep, but his leg kept flopping and got in the way. To get him into the jeep, his leg was cut off by T/4 Frank Goldstein but Heuel died from his wounds.
The battalion took part in the Battle of the Points on the west coast of Bataan. The Japanese landed troops but ended up trapped. When they attempted to land reinforcements, they landed in the wrong place. One was the Lapay-Longoskawayan points from January 23rd to 29th, the Quinauan-Aglaloma points from January 22nd to February 8th, and the Sililam-Anyasan points from January 27th to February 13th. The Japanese had been stopped, but the decision was made by Brigadier General Clinton A. Pierce that tanks were needed to support the 45th Infantry Philippine Scouts. He requested the tanks from the Provisional Tank Group.
On February 2nd, a platoon of C Company tanks was ordered to Quinan Point where the Japanese had landed troops. The tanks arrived at about 5:15 P.M. He did a quick reconnaissance of the area, and after meeting with the commanding infantry officer, made the decision to drive tanks into the edge of the Japanese position and spray the area with machine-gun fire. The progress was slow but steady until a Japanese .37 milometer gun was spotted in front of the lead tank, and the tanks withdrew. It turned out that the gun had been disabled by mortar fire, but the tanks did not know this at the time.
The decision was made to resume the attack the next morning, so the 45th Infantry dug in for the night. The next day, the tank platoon did reconnaissance before pulling into the front line. They repeated the maneuver and sprayed the area with machine gunfire. As they moved forward, members of the 45th Infantry followed the tanks. The troops made progress all day long along the left side of the line. The major problem the tanks had to deal with was tree stumps which they had to avoid so they would not get hung up on them. The stumps also made it hard for the tanks to maneuver. Coordinating the attack with the infantry was difficult, so the decision was made to bring in a radio car so that the tanks and infantry could talk with each other.
Only 3 of 23 tanks were being used and without the support of infantry and the trick during the attack through the jungle was to avoid large trees and clear a way for the infantry to attack. This they did by thrusting into the jungle. They only became aware of enemy positions when they were fired on. The tanks were supposed to have support from mortars but the ammunition was believed to be defective. It was found that the mortars were manned by inexperienced air corpsmen converted to infantry who had no idea that the arming pins on the mortar shells had to be pulled before firing them so the shells landed and did not explode.
On February 4, at 8:30 A.M. five tanks and the radio car arrived. The tanks were assigned the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, so each tank commander knew which tank was receiving an order. Each tank also received a walkie-talkie, as well as the radio car and infantry commanders. This was done so that the crews could coordinate the attack with the infantry and so that the tanks could be ordered to where they were needed. The Japanese were pushed back almost to the cliffs when the attack was halted for the night. The attack resumed the next morning and the Japanese were pushed to the cliff line where they hid below the edge of the cliff out of view. It was at that time that the tanks were released to return to the 192nd.
Companies A and 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. 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.
The tank companies also took part in the Battle of the Pockets in February 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 so they wouldn’t smell the rotting flesh in the tracks.
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.
What made this job of eliminating the Japanese so hard was that they had dug “spider holes” among the roots of the trees. Because of this situation, the Americans could not get a good shot at the Japanese. 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.
The tankers, from A, B, and C Companies, were able to clear the pockets by February 18. 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. It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Presidential Unit Citations
The 192nd unlike other units had arrived in the Philippines just before the start of the war, so they did not have the opportunity to stockpile food. 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. During this time the soldiers ate monkeys, snakes, lizards, horses, and mules. 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. They would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been a hamburger since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal. The amount of gasoline in March was reduced to 15 gallons a day for all vehicles except the tanks. This would later be dropped to ten gallons a day. It was during this time that Gen Wainwright wanted to turn the tanks into pillboxes. Gen Weaver pointed out to Wainwright that they did not have enough tanks to effectively do this, and if they did, they soon would have no tanks. Gen. Weaver suggested to Gen. Wainwright that a platoon of tanks be sent to Corregidor, but Wainwright declined.
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. The Japanese broke through the east side of the main defensive line on Bataan on April 7. The tanks were pulled out of their position along the west side of the line and ordered to reinforce the eastern portion of the line. Traveling south to Mariveles, the tankers started up the eastern road but were unable to reach their assigned area due to the roads being blocked by retreating Filipino and American forces.
It was the evening of April 8 that Gen. 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 were 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. Companies B and D, 192nd, and A Company, 194th, were preparing for a suicide attack on the Japanese in an attempt to stop the advance. At 6:00 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.”
It was at 10:00 P.M. that the decision was made to send a jeep – under a white flag – behind enemy lines to negotiate terms of surrender. The problem soon became that no white cloth could be found. Phil Parish, a truck driver for A Company realized that he had bedding buried in the back of his truck and searched for it. The bedding became the “white flags” that were flown on the jeeps. At 11:40 P.M., the ammunition dumps were destroyed. At midnight Companies B and D, and A Company, 194th, received an order from Gen. Weaver to stand down. 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.)
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 the order “crash.” Capt. Robert Sorenson, the company commander, ordered the crews to destroy their tanks. They cut the gas lines and threw torches into the tanks. Within minutes, the ammunition inside the tanks began exploding. After this was done, Sorenson and Major John Morley got into his jeep and made their way to Bayakaguin Point which was the command post for the tank group. Behind them in half-tracks were the tank crews of B Company. After arriving there, a number of men attempted to reach Corregidor.
As Gen. King left to negotiate the surrender, he went through the area held by B Company and spoke to the men. He said to them, “Boys. 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 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 not 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 in line with the Japanese advance should fly white flags.
After this was done a Japanese colonel and interpreter arrived, and King was told the officer was Homma’s Chief of Staff and he had come to discuss King’s surrender. King attempted to get assurances 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.
Unknown to Gen. King, an order attributed to Gen. Masaharu Homma – but in all likelihood from one of his subordinates – had been given. It stated, “Every troop which fought against our army on Bataan should be wiped out thoroughly, whether he surrendered or not, and any American captive who is unable to continue marching all the way to the concentration camp should be put to death in the area of 200 meters off the road.”
After the Japanese made contact with the company, 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 got to a tug boat in the harbor and successfully reach Corregidor on the boat.
It is known that other members of the tank group who reached Corregidor were assigned to the 4th Marines and assigned to defend Skipper Hill which faced Bataan. For the next month, he lived through daily bombardments on the island. The Japanese launched an all-out attack on the island the night of May 5, resulting in the surrender of the American forces there. When Corregidor surrendered, he became a Prisoner of War.
Most of the POWs were held on the beach for two weeks. There was no shade and water was at a minimum. The POWs volunteered to work the burial detail since it meant that they could also look for food and water. A second group of POWs was used as a cleanup crew that removed the junk from the battle. It appears John was in this group since he stated that he remained on the island for about a month until the detail ended. He and the other men went directly to Cabanatuan POW Camp which had opened in May 1942. From what he said, it appears they were sent to Cabanatuan #1.
In 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”
Cabanatuan was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who were captured on Bataan and took part in the death march were 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 and Ft. Drum surrendered were taken and it was later consolidated into Camp 1 on October 30, 1942.
It should be mentioned that at some point during this time, his family received a message from the War Department stating that John had died. No information is available on why the family received this message.
The camp hospital was made up of multiple buildings. One was known as “Zero Ward” because it was missed by the Japanese when they counted barracks. The sickest POWs were sent there to die. The Japanese put a fence up around the building to protect themselves, and they would not go into the building. There were two rolls of wooden platforms around the perimeter of the building. The sickest POWs were put on the lower platform which had holes cut into it so they could relieve themselves. Most of those who entered the ward died.
The POWs had the job of burying the dead. To do this, they worked in teams of four men. Each team carried a litter of four to six dead men to the cemetery where they were buried in graves containing 15 to 20 bodies. Since the water table was high, a POW held the body down in the grave with a pole until it was covered with dirt. The death rate remained at 9 POWs a day into November.
On August 7, one POW escaped from the camp and was recaptured on September 17. He was placed in solitary confinement and during his time there, he was beaten over the head with an iron bar by a Japanese sergeant. The camp commandant, Col. Mori, would parade him around the camp and use the man as an example as he lectured the POWs. The man wore a sign that read, “Example of an Escaped Prisoner.”
Three POWs escaped from the camp on September 12, 1942, and were 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 touching the ground causing their arms to bear all the weight of their bodies. They were subjected to severe beatings by the Japanese guards while hanging from the rafter. The punishment lasted three days. They were cut from the rafter and they were tied hand and foot and placed in the cooler for 30 days on a diet was rice and water. One of the three POWs was severely beaten by a Japanese lieutenant but was later released.
On September 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.
He recalled that he witnessed POWs who had escaped executed. They were made to dig their own graves and then shot. The camp commander, Colonel Mori, stated there was nothing he could do to stop it because the orders had come from Manila.
John went out on a work detail but where he worked is not known. After four months at Cabanatuan, he was selected to go to Las Pinas to build airfields in October 1942. 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 hard. 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.
Each morning the POWs got up and did calisthenics and were counted before they were 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.
It should be mentioned that John’s mother, at some point, was informed by the Army that he was dead. 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”
Although John never witnessed any POWs killed on the detail, 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 the POWs that he selected.
In late 1944, John was sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila. A list of POWs being sent to Japan was posted at the prison on September 21, and on October 1, the POWs were taken to Pier 7 in Manila, where the detachment of POWs boarded the Hokusen Maru. The POWs were forced into the ship’s hold until there was no room. The POWs went three days without water and the temperature in the holds rose to over 100 degrees. The ship sailed but dropped anchor at the harbor’s breakwater where it remained for three days. Men began going crazy and began screaming. The Japanese threatened to cover the holds unless those screaming stopped. To stop these men from screaming, the POWs killed them by strangling them or beating them to death with canteens.
It was said by men on the ship that there were 750 prisoners crowded into a hold just a few feet larger than a master bedroom. They also said that their food was a little rice and very little water, that there was no ventilation or sanitary facilities, that many died of suffocation, and that most of the POWs suffered from dysentery and malaria. In the hold, there was no place to lie down, so the POWs rested on top of a pile of coal. The POWs stood and squatted with their knees under their chins, in shifts, all of the 38 days they were in the hold. The only time the men were permitted on the deck was to go to the latrine, and when this was done, only one man was permitted on the deck at a time and only for a few minutes.
At first, the POWs were allowed on deck to relieve themselves. But this was changed to buckets tied to ropes that were used to haul the excrement from the hold. As they were pulled up, the buckets hit the hold’s walls spilling the waste onto the POWs. At 5:00 P.M., steamed rice was sent down in buckets, but most of the POWs were too sick to eat. Those who could eat ate as much as they could. Water was also sent down in pockets, and it appears that there was simply not enough for all the POWs.
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, 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, which 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 at either camp 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. The treatment given to 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 POWs, 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 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, arrived in 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.