Kodaj

Pvt. Steve Kodaj


     Pvt. Stephen Kodaj was born on April 3, 1917, to Michael Kodaj & Sophie Kleich-Kodaj in Chicago, Illinois.  He was the oldest of three sons born to the couple.  He was known as "Steve" to his family and friends.  His family moved to Brookfield, Illinois, where he lived at 4029 South Anna Avenue.  He worked in a nursery as a gardener. 
    On July 16, 1940, he joined the Illinois National Guard because he wanted excitement.  His tank company was called to federal service and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky to train.  While at Ft. Knox, he trained as a tank driver and assigned to a tank crew.

       In the late summer of 1941, Frank took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.   None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and 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.   They 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, the transport, 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, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to live in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He made sure that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he left to have his own dinner.
    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 spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.

    The first week of December, 1941, the tankers were ordered to Clark Field to assigned locations.  At all times, two members of each tank crew or half-track crew had to remain with their tank or half-track.
   
The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  All the tank crew members of the 192nd  were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch parking their planes in a straight line outside the mess hall.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.

    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 tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and 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.
    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 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, where the bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    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 fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th. 

    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders - about who was in command and that the troops should withdraw - were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would trap the Southern Luzon Forces withdrawing toward Bataan.  General 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 and half had withdrawn.  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.

    At 2:30 A.M., on January 6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force using smoke which was an attempt by the Japanese to destroy the tank battalions. That night the tanks withdrew into the peninsula with the 192nd holding its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross the 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 Haines, 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.
    Later on January 25th, both the 192nd and 194th held a defensive line on the Bakanga-Cardre-BaniBani Roads until the withdraw was completed at midnight.  They held the position until the night of January 26th/27th, 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 suppose 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.
    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, while the battalion's half-tracks were used to patrol the roads.  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.

    The battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare. 
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.

    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.
    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.  The 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 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 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.
    When the defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese, Steve destroyed his tank, but instead of surrendering, he escaped to Corregidor.  He was assigned to the 4th Marines and fought on for another month until the Japanese all out attack on the island resulted in the surrender of the American forces there.  When Corregidor surrendered, Steve became a Prisoner of War. 

    As a POW Steve was first imprisoned at Cabanatuan #3.  From Cabanatuan, he was sent to Manila and worked on the Bachrach Garage.  He and the other POWs on this detail repaired equipment for the Japanese.  Steve was considered too sick to work and was sent to Bilibid.  When he had recovered, he was given an physical and determined healthy enough to be sent to another occupied country.  

    On October 5, 1942, Steve and another 1600 POW's were sent to the dock area of Manila,  They spent two days housed in a warehouse on the dock before being boarded onto Tottori Maru

    800 POWs gathered at 2:00 A.M. on October 6th, and were given rice coffee, lugow rice, and a big rice ball.  After eating and packing their kits, the POWs marched out of the camp at 2:30 A.M. and received two buns as they marched through the gate to the barrio of Cabanatuan which they reached at 6:00 A.M.  There, 50 men were boarded onto each of the small wooden boxcars waiting for them at about 9:00 A.M.  The trip to Manila lasted until 4:00 P.M. and because of the heat in the cars, many POWs passed out.

    From the train station, the men were marched to pier 5 in the Port Area of Manila.  Some of the Filipinos flashed the "V" for victory sign as they made their war to the pier.  The detachment arrived at 5:00 P.M and were tired and hungry and were housed in a warehouse for two days.  The Japanese fed them rice and salted fish and let them eat as much as they wanted.  They also were allowed to wash.
   
The ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, on October 7th at 10:00 A.M. passing Corregidor at noon.  The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  The lucky POWs remained on deck.   The conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck.  The POWs were issued three loaves of bread that were equal to one American loaf of bread.

    Almost 1700 POWs were boarded onto the Tottori Maru on October 7th, but the ship did not sail until 10:00 A.M. the next day and passed Corregidor at noon.  In addition, there were sick Japanese and soldiers on the ship.  That night some POWs slept in the holds, but a large number slept on the deck.  Each day, the POWs were given bread for meals which most ate in one meal, but the men rationed their water.
    On October 9th, the ship had two torpedoes from an American submarine fired at it.  The captain of the ship maneuvered it and successfully avoided the torpedoes.  The POWs listened as the two torpedoes fired at the ship missed, but another ship in the convoy was hit.  The POWs' meal consisted of three candy bags of hardtack and rice and soup.

    The ship continued its voyage arriving at Takao, Formosa, on October 12th.  The ship remained at Takao for four days before sailing at 7:30 in the morning on October 18th.  It returned to Takao the same day dropping anchor at 10:30 P.M.  The ship sailed again on October 18th and arrived the same day at Pescadores Islands, where it dropped anchor.  It remained off the islands until October 27th when it returned to Takao.  During this stay, the POWs were disembarked and washed down with fire hoses.

    The ship sailed again on October 30th back to the Makou, Pescadores Islands.  On October 31st, the ship sailed for Pusan, Korea, as part of a seven ship convoy.  During this trip, the ships were caught in a typhoon which took five days to ride out.  After the storm, the ships were attacked by an American submarine sinking one ship and scattering the others.

    After 31 days on the ship, the Totori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea, on November 7th.  1300 POW's got off the ship and issued new clothing and fur-lined overcoats. 
    The next day, the POWs were disembarked.  Those who were extremely ill were left behind at Fusan, while the healthy POWs took a two day train ride to Mukden, Manchuria, arriving there on November 11th.  Before they boarded the train, the POWs were issued new clothes and fur-lined overcoats.  At a later date, the ashes of those left behind at Fusan were sent to Mukden in small white wooden boxes.
    At Mukden, the POWs were held at Hoten Camp.  When they first got there, they lived in dugouts and were later moved to a two story barracks.  Each enlisted POW received two thin blankets to cover themselves with at night.  The officers got one blanket and a mattress.  Meals were the same everyday.  For breakfast they had cornmeal mush and a bun.  Lunch was maize and beans, and dinner was beans and a bun.
    Since they were underfed, the POWs trapped wild dogs to supplement their meals of soy beans which usually came in the form of soup.  They continued to trap dogs until, while marching to work, they saw one eating a dead Chinese.    

    As a POW at Mukden, Steve was sent to Branch Camp #3 which was known as the Shenyang Camp.  There, he worked in a sawmill producing lumber.  Steve delighted in sabotaging the mill to stop its operation.  Even though they were in Manchuria, Steve and the other POWs knew how the war was going.  During his time at Mukden, the only member of B Company Steve was in touch with was William Kindell.

    At some point, Steve cut his finger.  Since the doctors had no medicine to treat the POWs with, the finger became infected.  The infection became so bad that it spread up his arm.  After it was examined by a Japanese doctor, the doctor told him that it would have to be amputated the next day.  According to Steve, another POW told him to put cigarette ash on the wound to draw out the poison.   He did this and to his amazement his arm was better the next day.
    The POWs were forced out into the cold and snow and made to strip when the Japanese searched for contraband cigarettes that the prisoners had bought from the Chinese while working in the factories.   They were made to stand in the snow barefooted while the Japanese searched all 700 POWs.
    Punishment was given for any infraction.  Two POWs were knocked out and kicked in the ribs for violating a camp rule.  At other times, the camp's food ration was cut in half because the Japanese believed a POW was not working as hard as he should have been, or someone had been caught smoking in an unauthorized area.  They would also withhold Red Cross packages.  On one occasion, Lt Murado ordered the prisoners to remove their shoes.  After they had, he hit each man in the face with his shoes.

    On another occasion, Steve violated a camp rule. For his punishment, he was hit with a bamboo stick on his shoulders and head.  The guard hit him so hard that the stick broke.  He should have fallen but didn't because according to him, "Because if you fall down, they kick your ribs in and your brains out."

    In September of 1945, Steve and the other POWs were liberated by Russian troops.  After he was freed, Steve's family received a letter from him dated August 23, 1945.  This was the first news they had received from him since November 1941.  A month after liberation, Steve was returned to American authorities.  He remained in Asia for one additional month before being returned to the United States on the Simon Bolivar, on October 21, 1945, at San Francisco. 

     Steve was finally discharged, from the army, at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on May 3, 1946, with the rank of sergeant.  He returned to Illinois and married.  He would move to Oakland Park, Florida, and raise a family. 

    On November 11, 1988, Veterans Day, Steve was awarded the medals he should have received after he was liberated.  One of those medals was the Silver Star.  When he was asked why he survived, he said, "I don't know."

    Steve Kodaj passed away on March 12, 2005, in Tallahassee, Florida.


 


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