Avila

 


Pvt. John Avila


    Pvt. John Avila was born on December 8, 1914, in Erath County, Texas.  He was living in Dallas County, Texas, when he was inducted into the army.  He did his basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to join the 753rd Tank Battalion. 
    While his battalion was at the base, the 192nd Tank Battalion received orders to go overseas, John replaced a National Guardsman who was released from federal service and was assigned to B Company.  Before this, he had been  a member of the 753rd Tank Battalion.  
 

   
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.

    The reason for this move was an event that took place in the summer of 1941.  A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf when one of the pilots noticed something odd.  He took his plane down and identified a buoy in the water.  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, with a large radio transmitter, hundred of miles away.  The squadron continued its flight plane and flew south to Mariveles and then returned to Clark Field.  When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day, so the next day - when a Navy ship was sent to the area - the buoys had been picked up.  It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
  Over different train routes, the companies were sent to San Francisco, California, where they were ferried, by the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe, to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, they were given physicals by the battalion's medical detachment and men found with minor medical conditions were held on the island and scheduled to rejoin 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. President 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 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 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.
    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 as they prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion.
    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times.  They received their meals from food trucks.
    The morning of December 8, 1941, all the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield after receiving word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack, the B and C Companies remained at the airfield.
    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.  They would live through two more attacks on December 10th and 13th.
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tankplatoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta, and the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed.  To cross the river, the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.  Later on the 24th, the battalions formed a defensive line along the southern bank of the Agno River with the 192nd on the right and 194th on the left.
    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 and withdrew, following the Philippine Army, to the Tarlec-Cabanatuan Line and was near Santo Tomas and Cabanatuan on the 28th and 29th.
    The tank battalions next covered the withdrawal of the Philippine Army at the Pampanga River.  The battalion's tanks were on both sides of the on December 31st at the Calumpit Bridge. 

    On January 1st, conflicting orders were received, by the defenders, as they were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  This would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  Gen. Johnathan Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6th/7th, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge.  The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.

    The night of January 7th, the tank battalions were covering the withdrawal of all troops around Hermosa.  Around 6:00 A.M., before the bridge had been destroyed by the engineers, the 192nd crossed the bridge.
    The next day, the battalion was between Culo and Hermosa and assigned a road to enter Bataan on which was worse than having no road.  The half-tracks kept throwing their rubber tracks and members of 17th Ordnance assigned to each battalion had to re-track them in dangerous situations.  After daylight, Japanese artillery fire was landing all around the tanks.
    The next day, 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 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 blow, 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.  The men rested and the tanks received the required maintenance.  Most of the tank tracks had worn down to bare metal and the radial engines long past their 400 hour overhauls.
    It was at this time the tank battalions received these orders which came from Gen. Weaver:  "Tanks will execute maximum delay, staying in position and firing at visible enemy until further delay will jeopardize withdrawal.  If a tank is immobilized, it will be fought until the close approach of the enemy, then destroyed; the crew previously taking positions outside and continuing to fight with the salvaged and personal weapons. Considerations of personal safety and expediency will not interfere with accomplishing the greatest possible delay."
    The battalions were sent to cover the junctions of the Back Road and East Road with the Abucay-Heicienda Road on January 25th.  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 the column of trucks which were loading the troops.  The tanks provided heavy fire so that the infantry could withdraw and inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese.
   
The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.

    Companies A & C were ordered to the west coast of Bataan while B Company - which was held in reserve - and 17th Ordnance held the southern shore of Bataan.  The tankers were awake all night and attempted to sleep under the jungle canopy, during the day, which protected them from being spotted by Japanese reconnaissance planes.  During the night, they were kept busy with repeated threats both on and off shore.
    On one occasion, a member of the company, who had gotten frustrated by being awakened by the planes, had his half-track pulled out onto the beach and took pot shots at the plane.  He missed the plane, but twenty minutes later, Japanese planes appeared over the location and dropped bombs that exploded in the tree tops.  Three members of the company were killed.
    The tank battalions, on their own, took up the job of protecting the airfields at Cabcaban, Bataan, and Mariveles, since Japanese paratroopers were known to be available.  The tanks and half-tracks were well hidden in the jungle around the airfields and different plans were in place to be used against Japanese forces.  There was only one major alert in March when 73 Japanese planes came over.
    B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  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 the tank companies were pulled 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 to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.

    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 gut in half again.
    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 tankwas knocked out but the remaining tanks successfully withdrew.
    On April 9, 1942, at 6:45 A.M., the word "crash" was heard over the tanks' radios.  The tankers circled their tanks and fired an armor piercing shell into the motor of the tank in front of it.  After this, the tankers waited until the Japanese made contact with them.  
It is not known if John was one of the members of the company who escaped to Corregidor or if became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered.  It is known that he was held as a POW at Cabanatuan.   

    On October 26, 1942, John was selected for a work detail to be sent to Davao, Mindanao. The POWs were sent by train from Cabanatuan to Manila.  They were held in Bilibid Prison for two days before being boarded onto the Erie Maru.  The trip to Lasang took 13 days because the ship made stops at Iloilo and Cebu, Mindanao.  John arrived on the Island of Mindanao  on November 7th.  John was one of 650 POWs who built an airfield at Lasang, while 100 POWs built an airfield south of Davao.  

    At the camp, the POWs were housed in eight barracks that were about 148 feet long and about 16 feet wide.  A four foot wide aisle ran down the center of each barracks.  In each barracks, were eighteen bays.  Twelve POWs shared a bay.  216 POWs lived in each barracks.  Four cages were later put in a bay.  Each cage held two POWs.

    The camp discipline was poor.  The American commanding officer changed frequently.  The junior officers refused to take orders from the senior officers.  Soon, the enlisted men spoke anyway they wanted to, to the officers.  The situation improved because all majority of POWs realized that discipline was needed to survive. 

    At first, the work details were not guarded.  The POWs plowed, planted, and harvested the crops.  The sick POWs made baskets.  In April 1943, the POWs working conditions varied.  Those working the rice fields received the worst treatment.  They were beaten for not meeting quotas, misunderstandings between the POWs and guards, and a translator who could not be trusted to tell the truth.

    One night the POWs heard the sound of a plane.  From the sound of the engine, they knew it was American.  It was the first American plane they had heard in over two years.  As the plane dove on the airfield, it dropped four bombs at the far end of the runway; the POWs celebrated silently.  On June 6, 1944, some of the POWs were sent to Manila, while the remainder of the men stayed on the island until August 19, 1944.

    Over the next two weeks the atmosphere at the airfield changed.  The Japanese posted guards  with bayonets on their rifles by the POW barracks as air raids became daily.  The Japanese camouflaged the airfield and hid their planes in revetments.  The POWs heard rumors that the Americans had landed at Palau.

    During this time, the POWs rations were cut to a single cup of rice a day.  The POWs were now so hungry that they raided the Japanese garbage pile for remnants of vegetables.  Many ate the weeds that grew inside the camp until it was bare.

    Air raids soon were nightly events.  Japanese planes flying out of the airfield were loaded with bombs and carried extra gasoline tanks.  Finally, all work on the airfield was stopped.

    On that day, the POWs were lined up by fours.  The outside men had rope tied to their wrists to prevent escape.  They were marched shoeless to the Tabunco Pier and arrived at noon.   They were packed into the two holds of the Erie Maru.  400 POWs were in the first hold while the remaining 350 POWs were put in the second hold.  In addition, several tons of Japanese baggage were packed into the hold.  Around six that evening, the ship sailed.

    As the ship made its way north it swayed in the waves.  Many of the prisoners became seasick.  They retched when they tried to throw up since there was no food in their stomachs.   The next day, the POWs heard the sound of a plane.  An American plane flew over the ship.  Moments later bombs exploded near the ship.  The sound of machinegun fire was heard by the POWs.  The Japanese once again tied down the hatch covers cutting off the air.  Over the next three days, there were several more alerts.  Each time the hatch covers were battened down leaving the POWs in darkness.

    The ship arrived in Zamboanga on August 24th and waited ten days until the Shinyo Maru arrived.  The POWs were not allowed out of the holds and the conditions in the ship's holds were terrible.  The holds were hot and steamy and the floors were covered with human waste.  In addition, the longer the POWs were in the holds the stench became worse.  During this time, the POWs were allowed on deck and sprayed with salt water.

    It should be noted that the United States had intercepted the order from Japanese command sending the Shinyo Maru to Zamboanga.  Someone misinterpreted the order as saying the ship would be transporting "750 troops" instead of "750 prisoners of war" to Manila.  The U.S.S. Paddle was sent to the area to intercept the ship.  

    On September 4th, the POWs were transferred onto the Shinyo Maru.  250 POWs were put iu the ship's smaller hold, while the 500 POWs were its larger hold.   That night, bombs from American planes landed alongside of the ship rocking an shaking it.  The POWs prayed for the ship would be hit.

    The ship sailed on September 5th at 2:00 a.m.  Before the ship sailed, the hatch covers were secured so that the POWs could not lift them from below.  The ship headed north in a zigzag pattern in an attempt to avoid submarines.  The POWs were no longer allowed on deck.  Their lips and throats were covered with dust from cement that had previously been hauled by the ship.  For the next two days the ship made good time.  It was at this time that the Japanese guards threatened to kill the POWs if the ship came under attack by American planes.  The ship was now part of a convoy designated as C-076.  Since the POWs had not heard any air raid alerts, they assumed that they were safe.

    At 7:37 p.m. the U.S.S Paddle spotted the convoy off the west coast of Mindanao at Sindangan Point.  It fired two torpedoes at the ship.  The first torpedo hit the ship in its main hold.  Moments later, a second torpedo hit the ship.  There was a gapping hole in the ship's side.  Those POWs still alive saw the bodies of the dead floating in the water as the hold filled with water. 

    Those POWs who were still alive found that the hatch cover had been blown off the hold by the explosion.  As the water level rose, they were able to climb out.  Seven Japanese officers were on the bridge with rifles.  As the POWs emerged from the hold, they picked them off.  The lucky POWs made it through their fire and dove into the water.

     The POWs in the smaller hold were also wounded from the torpedo hits.  But, the hold remained dry.  Many of these POWs also were able to make it onto the deck and attempted to swim to shore.  As they swam, they were fired upon by the same seven Japanese officers.

    According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize.  There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle, split in two and sunk into the water. 

   Japanese seaplanes  dropped depth charges in an attempt to sink the American submarine.  The good thing about the depth charges was that they kept sharks away from the POWs.  When they spotted the POWs in the water, they strafed them.  They stopped when they realized that there were Japanese in the water too. 

    A Japanese tanker that had been hit by torpedoes spilled oil and gasoline into the water.  The ship ran aground.  The Japanese quickly set up machineguns and fired on the POWs.  Boats from the other ships in the convoy attempted to hunt down the POWs swimming in the water.  If they found a man, they shot him.  What saved many lives was that with dusk it became harder for the Japanese to see them. 

    The Japanese announced to the Americans that if they surrendered that they would be treated with compassion.  About 30 men gave up after hearing this.  According to one man who escaped after surrendering, the POWs had their hands tied to the ship's rail, and the Japanese shot each POW in the back of the head.  They then pushed the bodies overboard.

    According to the POWs in the water, the Shinyo Maru began to capsize.  There was a tremendous crushing sound and the ship seemed to bend upward in the middle.  It then split in two and sank into the water.  Of the 750 POWs who were boarded onto the ship, 82 POWs escaped. One man died on shore while the remainder were rescued by Filipino guerillas and returned to U.S. Forces in October 1944.  Pvt. John Avila was not one of them.

     It is not known if Pvt. John Avila died when the Shinyo Maru sank or if he was shot while attempting to escape.  What is known is that Pvt. John Avila died in the sinking of the Shinyo Maru on Thursday, September 7, 1944. 

    Since Pvt. John Avila was lost at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside Manila.


 


 

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