S/Sgt. Richard C. Armato was the son of Italian immigrants and was born on January 15, 1912, to Antonia Gigante-Armato and Dominick Armato. He grew up in Melrose Park, Illinois, and with friends joined the Illinois National Guard as a member of the 33rd Division's Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois. |
Before he was inducted into the army in 1940, Richard worked, as a bank clerk, at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago and lived at 741 North Waller Avenue in Chicago. When his tank company was called to federal service on November 25, 1940, Richard was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training.
At Fort Knox, Richard learned to operate all the equipment that was used by the company. What his specific training and duties were is not known, but in January 1941, he was transferred to Headquarters Company after it was formed.
He next went to Louisiana, where the 192nd took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941. HQ Company kept the letter companies supplied and the tanks running. After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox. It was on the side of a hill that the battalion was informed they were being sent overseas. Being 29 years old, he was given the chance not to go overseas, but he chose to stay with the battalion.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred 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.
Many of the members of the battalion were given furloughs so that they could say goodbye to family and friends. They returned to Camp Polk and traveled by train to Ft. Mason in San Francisco, California, and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T General Frank M. Coxe. On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment. Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th. During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP. The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.
On Wednesday, November 5th, 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. Calvin Coolidge.
Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th. During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line. On Saturday, November 15th, 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.
When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, 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 20th, 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. He made sure that they had what they needed and that they received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
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 1st, 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 8th, 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 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.
As a member of HQ Company, Richard remained in the battalion's bivouac. He and the other men took cover to protect themselves from the bombs and bullets. After the attack he saw the damage done to the airfield.
HQ Company worked to supply the letter companies of the battalion with ammunition and fuel. They also attempted to recover tanks that were disabled to used for parts.
The Japanese lunched an all out attack on April 3rd. On April 7th, 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. King decided that further resistance was futile. Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who were 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, "Their last supper."
On April 11th, 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 finally boarded trucks and drove to just outside of Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and ordered to sit. As they sat, the POWs 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 prepared to die, a car pulled up and a Japanese officer got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. After talking to the sergeant, he got back in the car and drove off. The sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, the POWs were order to move and taken to a school yard in Mariveles and ordered to sit. Behind them were Japanese artillery pieces. The guns were firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. When the two American strongholds began returning fire, the prisoners found themselves in the line of fire and shells began landing around them. Five POWs who hid in an old brick building were killed when it took a direct hit. When the barrage ended, three if the four Japanese guns had been destroyed.
It was from this school yard that the POWs began the death march. The first five miles of the march was uphill. They made their way north from Mariveles to San Fernando. During the march men who had fell were shot and bayoneted where they fell.
When they reached San Fernando, the POWs were put in a bull pen which had been created by putting barbwire around a school yard. 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 of 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 ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino military base. There was only one water faucet for the entire camp. As many as fifty POWs died each day. The situation was so bad that the Japanese opened a new POW camp at Cabanatuan. Richard was sent to the camp and assigned to Barracks #5, Group 2. Medical records from the camp show that Richard was hospitalized on April 13, 1943. The records do not show why he was hospitalized or when he was discharged.
During this time, Richard was selected to be sent to Japan. On July 15, 1944, he was one of the POWs who boarded between 25 to 30 trucks for Bilibid Prison. The POWs left the camp at 8:00 P.M. and arrived at Bilibid at 2:00 in the morning. The morning of July 17th, the POWs at 7:00 A.M. the POWs were marched to the port area. When they arrived, the Japanese attempted to put 1600 POWs in the rear hold of the Nissyo Maru.
When they realized this could not be done, they moved 600 POWs to the forward hold. The POWs were put in the holds back to back.
The ship sailed later that day and dropped anchor off the breakwater of the harbor. For the first day and a half, the POWs were not fed. When they were fed, they received rice and vegetables and a canteen cup of water. They would receive this meal and amount of water twice a day.
On July 17th, the ship moved to a point off of Corregidor and dropped anchor about 5:00 P.M. and remained until July 24th. When it sailed, it sailed at 8:00 A.M. as part of a convoy. The ships sailed north by northeast. On July 26th at 3:00 in the morning, there was an explosion and large fire off to the side of ship. The POWs could see the light, from the fire, through the hold which was not covered. It turned out that the one of the ships, the Otari
Yama Maru had been hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher which
was a part of a three submarine wolf pack. They also heard the explosions as other ships were hit. In one case, the explosion was so great that the POWs saw the flames go over the uncovered hatches. Four of the thirteen ships in the convoy were sunk.
The POWs were calmed by Father John Curran, O. P., who told them that they could not do anything but pray. He than began saying the "Our Father" and the screaming subsided.
The remaining ships reached Takao, Formosa, the morning of Friday, July 28th and sailed again that evening for Moji, Japan. They sailed through a storm, which made the submarines go deep, and arrived at Moji near midnight the night of August 3rd.
The next morning the POWs disembarked the ship and marched to a theater. They remained in the dark theater for hours. The Japanese ordered the POWs to form detachments of 200 men. The detachments were marched to the train station and boarded trains to the camps they were assigned. From Moji, Richard was sent to Fukuoka
#3. This camp provided slave labor for the Yawata Steel Mills.
The prisoners were given various jobs including cleaning out the debris from the blast furnaces. Since Richard and the other POWs were slave labor, the Japanese saw no reason to allow the ovens to cool before the POWs cleaned them.
Although medical supplies for the POWs were sent to the camp by the Red Cross the Japanese commandant would not give the American medical staff the medicine that was in the packages. Any surgery in the camp had to be performed with crude medical tools even though the Red Cross had sent the proper surgical tools. The sick POWs were required to work even if it meant they could possibly die from doing it.
Three days a month, the POWs were allowed to exchange their worn out clothing for new clothing, but a Japanese guard beat POWs attempting to exchange their clothing. The POWs went without clothing to avoid the beatings which resulted in men developing pneumonia and dying.
The POWs were beaten daily with fists and sticks for violating camp rules, and the guards often required them to stand at attention, in the cold, while standing water. During the winter, they often had water thrown on them.
After three and a half years as a POW, he was liberated when the Japanese surrendered in 1945. He returned to the United States on the U.S.S. Joseph T. Dychman arriving on October 16, 1945, and was discharged, from the army, on June 20, 1946. He returned home to Melrose Park.
Richard later joined a monastery in Wisconsin where he studied to become a Catholic priest. After leaving the monastery, he moved to San Diego, California, where his sister and brother-in-law had moved. He worked as a title searcher for American Title & Insurance.
Richard Armato passed away on August 3, 1985, and was buried at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego next to his brother-in-law. He was 73 years old.