Cpl. John L. Massimino was born July 8, 1915, in Akron, Ohio, and was the son of Frank & Mary Massimino. His family moved to Illinois where he lived at 640 Harrison Street in Oak Park, with his sister and four brothers. It is known that during the 1920s, his mother died leaving his father to raise his to raise the children. |
John graduated from Oak Park River Forest High School in 1935, and after high school, John ran a machine for Chicago Screw Company for two years before taking a job in an Oak Park florist shop. He joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood, Illinois. Because of his physical size, John was known as "The Mouse" to the other members of the company.
On November 25, 1940, the Maywood Tank Company was called into federal service and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training. Upon arrival at Fort Knox, the company was given the designation of Company B of the 192nd Tank Battalion. John, like all the members of the company, was trained to operate tanks, half-tracks and motorcycles. John qualified as a tank driver.
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.
The battalion then went to Louisiana in late 1941, to take part in maneuvers from September 1st through 30th. It was after the maneuvers that the battalion was ordered to remain at Camp Polk. On the side of a hill, the soldiers learned they were being sent overseas. Many were allowed to return home to say goodbye to families and friends. Others were released from federal service because of their age and replaced by men from 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 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 Colonel 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 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier. The 192nd letter companies 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. 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.
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, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived 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. 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 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 December 31st/January 1st, the tanks were stationed on both sides of the Calumpit Bridge when they received conflicting orders, from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff, about whose command they were under and to withdraw from the bridge. The defenders were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5 which would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan. General Wainwright was unaware of the orders.
Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River and about half the defenders withdrew. 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., the night of January 5th/6th, the Japanese attacked at Remlus in force and using smoke as cover. This attack was an attempt to destroy the tank battalions. At 5:00 A.M., the Japanese withdrew having suffered heavy casualties.
The night of January 6th/7th 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, before the engineers blew up the bridge at 6:00 A.M.
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.
A composite tank company was formed, the next day, 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.
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.
During one tank engagement with the Japanese, Lt. Ed Winger's tank was disabled by the Japanese. The Japanese used flame throwers on the tank blinding John the tank's driver. The tank ended up wedged between two trees.
After escaping from the tank and attempting to make his way to the Filipino and American lines, Lt. Winger was shot by a Filipino soldier who mistook him as an infiltrator. To save Lt. Winger's life, John carried him for three days in an attempt to reach a military hospital. Lt. Winger died before reaching the hospital. For this action, John received the Silver Star.
The night before the American forces were to surrender, John, Sgt. Jim Bashleben and a few other members of B Company stopped a supply truck. The men gorged themselves on condensed milk. It was John's belief that doing this helped him and the others survive the march. He started the march on April 9th and arrived at Camp O'Donnell on April 15th.
On the march, John witnessed several instances of brutality. The Japanese would line the prisoners up and make them wait for hours to get a half cup of water. He once saw a Japanese officer walk along the line and knock the cups out of the hands of the prisoners before they had a chance to drink the water. John recalled that men who died on the march were buried where they fell. In one case, John saw a Japanese detail burying a man who was not dead. When the man tried to crawl out of his grave, a Japanese officer hit him with a shovel and then they buried him.
On the march, a Japanese guard saw that John had a small signet ring on the little finger of his left hand. The ring belonged to Betty Jean Smith of Oak Park. It was a link with the past life he no longer had. He was not about to give the ring up. He ducked in front of a slow moving group of marchers which caused the guard to lose him.
John also received a beating as a prisoner while on the march. One night the prisoners were herded into a small corral, and since he was tired he laid down to sleep. A Japanese officer, who was walking in the corral, stumbled over him. In anger, the officer kicked John six times in the head. The officer finished the beating off by throwing a brick at him.
The POWs were ordered to form detachments of 100 men and marched to the train station in San Fernando, where they were packed into small wooden boxcars known as "forty or eights." The cars were called this because each car could hold forty men or eight horses. The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each car and closed the doors. The POWs were packed in so tightly that those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From there, they walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.
John was first imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell which was a death camp. The POWs there could not dig graves fast enough to bury the dead. At night, the dogs would dig up the bodies and chew on them or the bodies would sit up in the graves. At Camp O'Donnell, he also witnessed brutality over and over again. In one case, a Japanese guard called a young American soldier to come across the perimeter wire to him. When the soldier did, the guard grabbed him and said he was trying to escape and shot the man.
John remained at Camp O'Donnell until he was sent to Cabanatuan which had been opened by the Japanese to lower the death rate among the POWs.
After arriving in the camp, John was hospitalized on Friday, June 19, 1942, suffering from malaria. He remained in the hospital until he was discharged on August 25th. John was again admitted to the camp's hospital on April 13, 1943. The report does not indicate why he had been admitted or when he was discharged.
In December 1942, he was selected for a work detail to Clark Field. The POWs on the detail built runways. He developed the philosophy that to survive he should do what the Japanese wanted him to do. One day, he overslept and did not report for "tinko" or "roll call" on time. He was beaten for oversleeping by the Japanese guards who used their rifles butts to beat him. They aimed their blows at the lower part of his body and his legs which resulted in his legs being swollen and discolored for weeks. He remained on this detail until the end of September 1944, when he was sent to the Port Area of Manila.
The POWs boarded the ship, the Hokusen Maru, on October 1st and 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 it sailed again on October 4th 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 which failed since, on October 6th, two of the ships were sunk.
The ships were informed, on October 9th, that American carriers were seen near Formosa and American planes were in the area. The decision was made for the ships to go to Hong Kong. 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 11th. While it was in port, American planes bombed the harbor on October 16th causing the ship to rock from the explosions nearby. On October 21st, the ship sailed for Takao, Formosa, arriving on October 24th.
Upon reaching Formosa, the POWs were unloaded since many were in very poor condition. John was one of 110 Americans sent to Heito POW Camp and arrived there on November 9, 1944. The reason they were sent there was that the Japanese were too hard pressed to send them on to Japan. He reamined in the camp until January 24, 1945.
When they arrived at the camp, the POWs were made to stand in line. The camp commander, 1st Lieutenant Tamaki, went down the line and searched the POWs and their bags. In John's case, he confiscated the vitamin pills that John's sister had sent to him in a Red Cross package when he was at Clark Field. Tamaki also took two bars of soap away from John. The next day, the POWs met and noted that Tamarki had taken all the medicine and first aid equipment from them.
John described the work the POWs did in the camp. In his own words, "After we were there about five days, they started the men working. My job was to load ballast stones on box cars. Along four other men, I had to load three boxcars each with ten ton of stone per day. To perform this job we each used a basket called a 'punki.' Those who were too ill to perform this type of work , worked on the camp farm."
On the treatment he saw given to POWs in the camp, he said, "On at least six different days, I saw the guards seize different men as we marched into the compound at the end of the day and throw them in a water trough in front of the Japanese guard house. I then saw the guards hold the man under water, head and all. I did not witness the entire proceeding in each case, but saw only a few minutes of each incident. However, in each instance, I could hear the rest of the struggle from inside my barrack. After the struggle in the water trough ended, I saw the man marched into the guard house. I could hear the men screaming."
John learned from his talks, with these men, that once the they were inside the guard house they were beaten by Lt. Tamaki. Tamaki hit them on their backs and shoulders and their legs with a bamboo cane. After two or three days, the POWs were released from the guardhouse. A few of these POWs showed John the welts on their backs and legs from the beatings.
Every two weeks, John would get a day off. On that day, he worked in the camp garden. As he recalled, "Because of the hard labor I was performing, I received a day off every two weeks. On one of my days off, I was planting cabbages or some similar vegetable, right outside the guardhouse. During that day I heard a man scream three different times, and each time I could distinctly hear Captain Tamarki laugh. This occurred sometime in January. The screams occurred for three or fours minutes each time. While the man was screaming, I could hear blows."
John also recalled that not too long after arriving in the camp, ten Americans died from severe headaches or "brain fever." The British POW doctor could not do anything for the men who came down with the fever since he had no medicine. Capt Tamaki called both the American and British POWs together and had a talk with them. He asked if any of the POWs had a fever. About fifty or sixty POWs raised their hands. Capt. Tamaki told the POWs that the camp had a large cemetery with a lot of room in it for all of them. He told the POWs he was going to work hard to fill the cemetery.
John recalled he was on the burial details for two of his friends, Sgt. John Morine, from Port Clinton, Ohio, and T/4 Ralph Madison, from Janesville, Wisconsin. According to John, both men died from the fever.
John also recalled that when the Japanese colonel who was in charge of making sure that the POWs were fed well came to the camp, the POWs rations were increased. He would tell them how lucky they were to be Japanese POWs. He mentioned meals of ducks, geese, pigs and vegetables. All these were raised in the camp. After the colonel left the camp, the POWs rations were reduced to 450 grams of rice and one potato a day. John pointed out that the potatoes grown in the camp were washed, cooked and fed to the pigs that were raised at the camp.
John and the other POWs were boarded onto the Enoshima
Maru on January 25, 1945, at Keelung, Formosa. He finally arrived in Japan in February 1945, and was sent to Naruo Camp where he worked in a graphite factory. The graphite would produce ulcers on the POWs which would grow in size the longer that they worked in the factory. The camp was closed May 29, 1945.
John was then sent to Nagoya #9, outside of Toyama, in north central Honshu, Japan. There, John worked in the kitchen. Most of the prisoners in the camp did dock work and loaded and unloaded ships. While a prisoner, John witnessed the bombing of the City of Toyama by 150 B-29s. When they were through, he watched the city burn. He thought it was a beautiful site.
John remained a POW until he was liberated at the end of the war. He was returned to the Philippines and after medical treatment, he was boarded onto the Simon Bolivar arriving at San Francisco on October 25, 1945. After receiving additional medical treatment, he was discharged, from the Army, on April 28, 1946. Before he was discharged, on February 26, 1946, John was interviewed to give testimony against Japanese Captain Tamarki who commanded Heito POW Camp on Formosa. Captain Tamarki had been charged with the mistreatment of American POWs.
John returned to Oak Park, Illinois, but he did not marry the girl whose ring he had risked his life to keep. John married, Maxine Sobeske on June 28, 1947, and was the father of two children. He resided in Bensenville, Illinois, and worked for Illinois Bell Telephone where he became a foreman until his retirement. After he retired, the he and his wife moved to Seminole, Florida.
John L. Massimino passed away on October 23, 2001, in Florida. He was buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery, Bay Pines, Florida, in Section B, Site 282.