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Rago, Maj. John B.


Maj. John Baptiste Rago 
Born: 26 January 1902 – Cook County, Illinois
Parents: Paolo Rago & Francisca Chairo-Rago
Siblings: 2 Sisters
Home: 914 North 16th Avenue, Melrose Park, Illinois
– Proviso Township High School – Class of 1920
– Loyola University Dental School
– Katherine Fry – 8 December 1933
Divorced: 1954
Children: 2 sons
– U.S. Army Dental Corps
– Fort Knox, Kentucky
– Rank: Captain
– Orders: 21 March 1941
– Sailed: – 8 April 1941 – New York
– Arrived: not known
– Unit:
– Dental Corps
– Engagements:
– Battle of Luzon – 8 December 1941 – 6 January 1942
– Battle of Bataan – 7 January 1942 – April 9, 1942
– Promoted: Major
– 9 April 1942
– Bataan surrendered
– Death March
– POW Camps
– Philippine Islands
– Camp O’Donnell
– 1 April 1942 – unfinished Filipino training base Japanese put into use as a POW camp
– Japanese believed the camp could hold 15,000 to 20,000 POWs
– POWs searched upon arrival at camp
– those found with Japanese money were accused of looting
– sent to guardhouse
– over several days, gunshots heard southeast of the camp
– POWs who had money on them had been executed
– Japanese took away any extra clothing from POWs as they entered the camp and refused to return it
– since no water was available for wash clothing, the POWs threw soiled clothing away
– clothing was taken from dead
– few of the POWs in the camp hospital had clothing
– POWs were not allowed to bathe
– only one water spigot for the entire camp
– POWs waited 2½ hours to 8 hours to get a drink
– water frequently turned off by Japanese guards and the next man in line waited as long as 4 hours for the water to be turned on again
– mess kits could not be cleaned
– POWs had to carry water 3 miles from a river to cook their meals
– second water spigot installed a week after POWs arrived
– slit trenches overflowed since many of the POWs had dysentery
– flies were everywhere including in camp kitchens and food
– the camp hospital had no water, soap, or disinfectant
– the senior POW doctor wrote a list of medicines he wanted to treat the sick and was told by the camp commandant, Capt. Yoshio Tsuneyoshi, never to 
  write another letter
– Tsuneyoshi said that all he wanted to know about the American POWs was their names and numbers when they died
– the ranking American officer was beaten with a broadsword after requesting medicine, additional food, and material to repair the leaking POW huts
– refused to allow a truckload of medicine sent by the Archbishop of Manila into the camp
– 95% of the medicine sent by Philippine Red Cross was taken by the Japanese for their own use
– POWs in the camp hospital lay on the floor elbow to elbow
– operations on POWs were performed with mess kit knives
– only one medic out of six assigned to care for 50 sick POWs, in the hospital, was well enough to work
– as many as 50 POWs died each day
– each morning dead were found everywhere in the camp and stacked up under the hospital
– the ground under hospital was scrapped and cover with lime to clean it
– the dead were moved to this area and the section where they had laid was scrapped and cover with lime
– usually not buried for two or three days
– work details: if a POW could walk, he was sent out on a work detail
– POWs on burial detail often had dysentery and malaria
– Japanese opened a new POW camp to lower death rate
– 1 June 1942 – POWs formed detachments of 100 men
– POWs marched out the gate and marched toward Capas
– Filipino people gave POWs small bundles of food
– the guards did not stop them
– At Capas, the POWs were put into steel boxcars and rode them to Manila
– the train stopped at Calumpit and switched onto the line to Cabanatuan
– POWs disembark the train at 6:00 P.M. and put into a schoolyard
– fed rice and onion soup
– Cabanatuan:
– original name: Camp Panagatan
– Philippine Army Base built for 91st Philippine Army Division
– actually three camps
– Camp 1: POWs from Camp O’Donnell
– Camp 2: four miles away
– all POWs moved from there because of a lack of water
– later used for Naval POWs
– Camp 3: six miles from Camp 2
– POWs from Corregidor and from hospitals sent there
– POWs later moved to Camp 1
– Camp Administration:
– the Japanese left POWs to run the camp on their own
– Japanese entered camp when they had a reason
– POWs patrolled fence to prevent escapes
– Note: men who attempted to escape were recaptured
– Japanese beat them for days
– executed them
– Barracks:
– each barracks held 50 men
– often held between 60 and 120 men
– slept on bamboo slats without mattresses, covers, and mosquito netting
– diseases spread easily
– no showers
– assigned to Barracks 5, Group 2
– Morning Roll Call:
– stood at attention
– frequently beaten over their heads for no reason
– when POWs lined up for roll call, it was a common practice for Japanese guards, after the POWs lined up, to kick the POWs in their shins with their
  hobnailed boots because they didn’t like the way the POWs lined up
– Work Detail:
– worked in the camp hospital
– not known if he left camp and went out on work detail
– to prevent escapes, the POWs set up patrols along the camp’s fence
– men who attempted to escape and caught were executed after being beaten
– the other POWs were forced to watch the beatings
– daily POW meal – 16 ounces of cooked rice, 4 ounces of vegetable oil, sweet potato or corn
– most of the food the POWs grew went to the Japanese
– Camp Hospital:
– 30 Wards
– each ward could hold 40 men
– frequently had 100 men in each
– two tiers of bunks
– sickest POWs on the bottom tier
– each POW had a 2 foot by 6-foot area to lie in
– Zero Ward
– given the name, because it had been missed when counting wards
– became the ward where those who were going to die were sent
– fenced off from other wards
– Japanese guards would not go near it
– POWs sent there had little to no chance of surviving
– medical staff had little to no medicine to treat sick
– many deaths from disease caused by malnutrition
POW Number: I-03511
– Japanese issued numbers to POWs from September through December 1942
– first POW numbers given to POWs on the Nagato Maru
Transferred to Bilibid Prison:
– it appears he was sent to the prison in 1943
– in charge of a work detail known as the Army Bureau Work Detail
– it is not known where or what work the POWs did
– the POWs did do physical work
Hell Ship:
– Hokusen Maru
– 600 POWs put in the forward hold
– POWs had enough room to sit with their knees under their chins
– 600 POWs put in the rear hold
– the POWs began to pass out from the heat in the rear hold which was next to the ship’s engine room
– 100 POWs, who had passed out, were moved to forward hold
– Water
– one canteen of water was supposed to be given to the POWs each day
– they went days without receiving water
– those crazed from thirst fought with other POWs
– 8 POWs killed in the fights
– 30 other POWs died from disease and dehydration
– Formosan Guards:
– POW beatings were continuous
– POWs making too much noise were hauled onto the deck and made to kneel on a steel cable which dug into their knees
– knelt on cable for hours
– only the sickest POWs were allowed on deck to get air
– Sailed: Manila- 3 October 1944
– Arrived: Hong Kong – 11 October 1944
– attacked by U.S. fighters
– Sailed: 21 October 1944
– Arrived: Takao, Formosa – 11 November 1944
– POWs disembarked since they were in bad shape
Note: During the trip, John could hear the torpedoes hitting the other ships in the convoy.
POW Camp:
– Formosa
– POWs cleaned a dry river bed of rocks to plant sugarcane
Hell Ship:
– Enoshima Maru
– Sailed: Takao, Formosa – 25 January 1945
– put in hold carrying hemp to Japan
– discovered sacks of sugar and pellets of canned tomatoes under hemp
– POWs feasted on the canned tomatoes
– Arrived: Moji, Japan – 30 January 1945
– approximately 564 POWs were on the ship
– POWs marched to the schoolhouse
– stripped off their clothes before entering – lice-infested
– deloused
POW Camp:
Osaka Dispatch Camp #8
– also known as Naru Dispatch Camp
– 29 May 1945 – camp closed
Nagoya #9-B
– 16 July 1944 – transferred to camp
– Camp had a ten-foot fence around it
– Work:
– POWs worked as stevedores on docks loading and unloading ships
– the workday went from 7:00 6:30 P.M.
– 1 hour for lunch and two half-hour breaks
– when docks were busy, 100 POWs returned at 8:00 P.M. and worked to midnight or 4:00 A.M.
– 100 POWs worked in the camp garden
– Barracks:
– 100 feet long by 24 feet wide
– two tiers of platforms around the perimeter for sleeping
– POWs slept on straw mats
– an eight-foot-wide aisle down the middle of barracks
– floors were dirt
– Meals:
– six POWs assigned to the kitchen
– primarily rice, wheat, and soybeans
– sometimes vegetables like onions or daikons a Japanese beet
– fish that was fried or in a soup
– Clothing:
– provided by the Japanese Army
– many POWs wore Japanese Army uniforms and the traditional Japanese shoe, the geta
– those who still had GI shoes were given leather to repair them
– Work Clothes: straw shoes, hats, raincoats that were used at work
– Work:
– most of the POWs walked three-quarters of a mile and worked on the docks loading and unloading coal, rice, and beans
– worked from 7:30 A.M. until 6:30 P.M.
– received an hour lunch and two half-hour breaks
– when the port was extremely busy, 100 POWs worked from 8:00 P.M. until midnight or 4:00 A.M.
– Punishment:
– collective punishment practiced toward the POWs
– usually involved stealing rice or beans at docks
– on occasion, the POWs were denied coal, during the winter, for 7 days because one POW broke a rule
– on another occasion, 15 POWs were accused of stealing rice from sacks they were unloading from a ship
– when they returned to camp, they were forced to kneel for 1½ to five hours to get them to confess
– six of the fifteen men confessed and the remainder were fed and sent to the barracks
– when the camp commandant left at 8:00 P.M. the men sent to their barracks were called outside
– they were ordered to stand at attention and were beaten with pickax handles, rope, that was about 3 inches round and 5 feet long,
clubs, and farrison belts across their buttocks, faces, and legs
– one POW said he was hit 150 times on his face and 20 times on his buttocks
– POWs often were kicked with hobnailed boots
– POWs who passed out were thrown into a large tub of water – with their hands and feet bound – or they had water poured on them
to revive them
– when they were revived, they were beaten again
– Red Cross Boxes:
– the Japanese misappropriated the canned meats, canned fruits, cigarettes, medicine, and medical supplies
– also used Red Cross clothing and shoes
– Hospital:
– assigned to hospital after he arrived at camp
– 42 foot long by 24 wide
– an area at the end of barracks was walled off to create one
– had beds for 20 patients
– on average 100 POWs were sick each day
– four American medics, and a Japanese medical technician
– Rago was a dentist
– a medical doctor later arrived at the camp
– pneumonia killed many POWs
– men suffering from dysentery and diarrhea not considered ill and had to work
– beaten with shovels to get them to work
– meal rations cut
– 16 August 1945 – all medical records destroyed
– Burials:
– bodies put in a 4 foot square by two-foot-tall wooden box with handles
– carried to crematorium behind a Buddhist priest, wearing white and gold robes, from the local village
– ashes returned to camp in 4-inch square by 12-inch high wooden box
– man’s name and serial number on the box
– given to camp commandant who kept it in his office
– POWs were working when they heard the word that the war was over
– they knew it was true from the looks on the faces of the Japanese
– 5 September 1945 – Swiss Red Cross enter the camp
– Liberated: 9 September 1945 
– made contact with American troops
– taken by train to Tokyo docks for processing and medical exams on U.S.S. Rescue
Promoted Lt. Colonel
Military Career:
– Transferred to U.S. Air Force
– Served in Korea
Stationed: Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida
Promoted: Colonel
Married: Genevieve
– two stepdaughters
– moved to Florida – 1957
Died: 17 November 1976 – South Miami General Hospital
The photo below was taken while Maj. John Rago was a POW at Nagoya #9-B.


Rago POW

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