Sgt. John W. Wood Jr. was the son of Mr. & Mrs. John W. Wood Sr. and was born on March 11, 1914, in Milton, Wisconsin, and known as “Jack” to his family and friends. He was a 1932 graduate of Milton Union High School.
On September 9, 1940, John joined the Wisconsin National Guard since he knew it was just a matter of time until he would be drafted into the Army. The tank company had already been notified that it was being called to federal duty on November 25, 1940. On November 28, the company traveled by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. During his time at Ft. Knox, he was transferred to Headquarters Company when it was created on December 20, 1940.
A typical day started at 6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the soldiers were already up so they could wash, dress, and be on time for assembly. Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was followed buy calisthenics from 8 to 8:30. After this, the remainder of the morning dealt with .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, pistols, map reading, care of personal equipment, military courtesy, and training in military tactics.
At 11:30, the tankers got ready for lunch, which was from noon to 1:00 P.M., when they went back to work by attending the various schools. At 4:30, the tankers day ended and retreat was at 5:00 P.M. followed by evening meal at 5:30. The day ended at 9:00 P.M. with lights out, but they did not have to be in bed until 10:00 P.M. when taps was played.
In April 1941, he was promoted to private first class. In the late summer of 1941, John took part in maneuvers in Louisiana. It was after the maneuvers at Camp Polk, that he and the other men learned that they were not being released from federal duty but being sent overseas.
On the side of a hill, the battalion members were informed that they were being sent overseas. Those members of the battalion 29 years old, or older, were given the opportunity to resign from federal service. Men were given furloughs home to say goodbye to family and friends.
The decision for this move – which had been made during 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.
The battalion traveled west over different train routes and arrived at Ft. Mason in San Francisco and was ferried, on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Angel Island where they were given physicals and inoculated by the battalion’s medical detachment. Anyone who had a medical condition was replaced or held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Gen. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2 and had a two-day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes. It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the 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. During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.
The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke. It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
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 that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field, but the fact was that he had not learned of their arrival until just days before their ship docked. He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner 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 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.
For the next seventeen days, the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons. The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea. They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
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 half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half. At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles. Meals were brought to them by food trucks.
At six in the morning on December 8, the officers of the battalion were called to the radio room at the fort. They were ordered to bring their tank platoons up to full strength at the perimeter of the airfield. All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed to be refueled and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45, the tankers were having lunch and watched as 54 planes approached the airfield from the north. As they watched, the saw “raindrops” falling from the planes. When bombs began exploding, the soldiers knew the planes were Japanese.
The tankers could do little more than watch since their weapons, except for the tanks’ machine guns, were useless against planes. 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, HQ Company slept in a dry latrine near their tents. They had no idea they had slept their last night in a bed for the next three and a half years.
John spent the next four months supplying the letter companies of the battalion with the supplies they needed in their fight against the Japanese. It was during this time that John was promoted to sergeant.
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. On April 7, the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, supported by tanks, attempted to restore the line, but Japanese infiltrators prevented this from happening. During this action, one tank was knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew. C Company, 194th, which was attached to the 192nd, had only seven tanks left.
The tanks became a favorite target of the Japanese receiving fire on trails and while hidden in the jungle. and 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.
It was at this time 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 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
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 evening of April 8, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ’s commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. While informing the members of the company of the surrender, he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them. As he spoke, his voice choked. He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued. He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.
During the announcement, Bruni emphasized that they all were to surrender together. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company’s trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Somehow, Bruni had found enough bread and pineapple juice for what he called, “Our last supper.”
On April 11, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company’s encampment. Donald was now a Prisoner of War. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans. They remained along the sides of the road for hours.
HQ Company boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, John and the other Prisoners of War noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.
As they sat there watching and waiting for the Japanese soldiers, a Japanese officer pulled up to the Japanese soldiers in a car. He got out and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, John was moved to a schoolyard in Mariveles. In the schoolyard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum. Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide. Some of the POWs were killed from incoming shells.
When they reached San Fernando, the POWs were put in a bullpen which had been created by putting barbwire around a schoolyard. They were left there for hours sitting in the sun. At some point, the Japanese ordered them to form 100 men detachments. When this was done, they were marched to the train station.
At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars known as “Forty or Eights.” The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 men into each car and closed the doors. Those POWs who died in the cars did not fall to the floors until the living left the cars at Capas. From Caps, the POWs walked the last miles to Camp O’Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
There was only one water faucet in the camp, and the prisoners stood in line from two to eight hours waiting for a drink. The Japanese guards at the faucet would turn it off for no reason and the next man in line would stand as long as four hours waiting for it to be turned on again. This situation improved when a second faucet was added.
There was no water for washing clothes, so the POWs would throw out their clothing when it had been soiled. In addition, water for cooking had to be carried three miles from a river to the camp and mess kits could not be washed. The slit trenches in the camp were inadequate and were soon overflowing since most of the POWs had dysentery. The result was that flies were everywhere in the camp including the POW kitchens and in the food.
The camp hospital had no soap, water, or disinfectant. When the ranking American doctor at the camp wrote a letter to the camp commandant, Capt. Yohio Tsuneyoshi, asking for medical supplies, he was told never to write another letter. When the Archbishop of Manila sent a truckload of medical supplies to the camp, Tsuneyoshi refused to allow the truck into the camp. When the Japanese Red Cross sent medical supplies to the camp the Japanese took 95% of the supplies for their own use.
The POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow and only one of the six medic assigned to care for 50 sick POWs was healthy enough to care for them. When a representative of the Philippine Red Cross stated they could supply a 150-bed hospital for the camp, he was slapped in the face by a Japanese lieutenant.
Each morning, the bodies of the dead were found all over the camp and were carried to the hospital and placed underneath it. The bodies lay there for two or three days before they were buried in the camp cemetery by other POWs who were suffering from dysentery and/or malaria. To clean the ground under the hospital, the ground was scraped and lime was spread over it. The bodies of the dead were placed in the area, and the area they had been laying was scrapped and lime was spread over it.
Work details were sent out on a daily basis. Each day, the American doctors gave a list of names to the Japanese of the POWs who were healthier enough to work. If the quota of POWs needed to work could not be met, the Japanese put those POWs who were sick but could walk, to work. The death rate among the POWs reached 50 men dying a day.
To get out of the camp, John went out on a work detail. The detail was sent to Mariveles to collect scrap metal. How long he remained on this detail is not known.
When the detail ended, John was sent to Cabanatuan which 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.
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. In John’s case, he lived in Barracks 15.
The POWs were sent out on work details one was to cut wood for the POW kitchens. The two major details were the farm detail and the airfield detail which lasted for years. A typical day on any detail lasted from 7:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. The POWs on the farm detail would have to go to a shed each morning to get tools. As they left the shed, the Japanese guards thought it was great fun to hit them over their heads.
The 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.
According to medical records kept at the camp, John was in the camp hospital on June 29, 1942, and was tested for tuberculosis. The results were negative. No date of discharge was given in the records.
John went out on a work detail to build runways on a work detail that became known as the Las Pinas Detail. The POW detachment he was in was sent there to increase the number of men on it to 800. Work was done by two detachments. One detachment drained the rice fields and did the preparation work for the runway. The second detachment laid the foundation for the runway and did the actual building of the runway. In July 1944, most of the POWs were sent to Cabanatuan since most of the work had been completed.
Each morning the POWs were awakened at 6:00 A.M. and did exercise. They were next fed their breakfast and marched about a mile to Nichols Airfield. The Filipino civilians seeing the ragged clothes and lack of shoes expressed their sympathy to the POWs which angered the Japanese guards.
This detail quickly became known as a “death detail” by the POWs in the camps because of the treatment given by the Japanese guards. On the detail, the last man to finish working was beaten. This was a done daily and whoever was the last man to get in line received a beating.
The POWs on this detail worked at Nichols Field where the Japanese wanted to build one of the biggest runways in the Philippines. The planes were drawn up by the United States which planned on using construction equipment. The Japanese expected the POWs to do the work with picks and shovels.
The detail was under the control of the Japanese Navy and welfare of the POWs was of no concern to them. They only concern they had was getting the runway built. If the number of POWs identified as being sick was too large, the Japanese would simply walk among the POWs, at the school, and selected men who did not display any physical signs of illness or injury. Men suffering from dysentery or pellagra could not get out of work.
The POWs were divided into two detachments. The first detachment drained rice paddies and laid the groundwork for the runway, while the second detachment built the runway. When most of the work was done in July 1944, most of the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan. John was one of 300 men that remained at the airfield.
On September 21, 1944, while the POWs were working, they saw American dive bombers. This was the first time they had seen American planes since the surrender of Bataan. Watching the planes attack the Japanese caused the POWs to cheer. The next day the detail was ended and the POWs were sent to Bilibid Prison.
On October 1, 1944, the POWs were put into the holds of the Hokusen Maru. John’ s detachment of POWs was scheduled to sail on the Arisan Maru, but when all the POWs scheduled to sail on the Hokusen Maru had not arrived, the Japanese switched POW groups so that the ship could sail. As it turned out, the Arisan Maru was sunk by an American submarine and only nine of the nearly 1800 POWs on it survived the sinking.
The ship sailed but dropped anchor at 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, the ship 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. This tactic failed since, on October 6, two of the ships were sunk by torpedoes.
The ships were informed, on October 9, that American carriers were seen near Formosa so they sailed for Hong Kong when they received word American planes were in the area. During this part of the trip, the ships ran into American submarines which sank two more ships. The Hokusen Maru arrived at Hong Kong on October 11. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16 but no damage was done to the ship. On October 21, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24.
Upon reaching the Formosa, the POWs remained in the ship’s holds until they disembarked on November 8. Once on shore, they were taken to Inrin Temporary POW camp on the island. The POWs did light work because most were too ill to do much more. The healthier POWs worked at a sugarcane processing plant.
On January 24, 1945, John and another 563 POWs took a train to Shirakawa were they boarded the Enoshima Maru the next day. The ship sailed and took five days to reach Moji, Japan. After arriving at Moji, the POWs left the ship and boarded a train. When they got off the train, they got on a narrow gauge train which they rode into the mountains. After getting off the second train, in deep snow, the POWs walked the last few miles to Sendai #3 arriving in the camp on January 23. In the camp, the POWs mined lead and zinc for the Mitsubishi Mining Company.
In the camp, the guards carried bamboo clubs which they hit the POWs with on a regular basis for various reasons. When being punished, the POWs were ordered and forced to stand at attention, in the snow, in their inadequate clothing. On several occasions, they were forced to stand at attention with holding buckets of water at arms’ length.
The POWs were marched to and from the mine by Japanese civilians. If they fell behind during the march, the guards beat them with their bamboo clubs. One day when entering the mine, the POWs had to remove their hats and bow to the Japanese mine god. He removed his hat, bowed, and said, “Hello Roosevelt.” The guard, who was known as “Tom,” to the POWs understood what he had said and hit him a three-foot-long stick on the top of his head which caused him to fall backward about six feet.
What is known about the camp is that the hospital was a cold wooden barracks that was sealed against the cold. One of the worst things about the camp was the lice. John and the other POWs would clean their clothes by running the carbide mining lamps along the seams. The heat from the lamps would cause the lice to pop.
Medical equipment was poor and fourteen POWs died in the hospital. All the deaths were contributed to lack of clothing, against the cold, inadequate heating of the barracks, and poor diet. The sick POWs were forced to work in the mine when they were physically unable to work. Those who reported for sick call had to line up in the hallway to the Japanese doctor’s office and take off all their clothes before they entered. While in line, they were often slapped in the face. The doctor made the POWs stand at attention, bow, and follow orders given to them. Since this took so much time, most of the POWs were never examined and had to work. Cold weather clothing and blankets from the Red Cross were never given out to the POWs who had to sleep in the poorly heated barracks in the winter.
Although the Japanese received Red Cross packages for the POWs, they were not given to the POWs. Red Cross medicines and medicals supplies that would help the prisoners were not given to them. The camp doctor was known to eat vitamin tablets from the packages in front of the POWs.
John remained a POW in Japan until he was liberated on August 23, 1945. He returned to the Philippines for medical treatment before returning to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dyckman on October 16, 1945, at San Francisco. He was treated at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco and then at Mayo General Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois. While he was there, his parents came from Janesville to visit him.
John was discharged from the Army on June 3, 1946, returned to Janesville and later moved to Whitewater, Wisconsin, where his family had moved. In August 1946, he married Barbara Mitchell and raised a family. On February 21, 1951, he reenlisted in the army but was discharged on November 20, 1951.
John W. Wood Jr. died on June 10, 1977, in Whitewater, Wisconsin, and was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Whitewater.