Pvt. John M. Pimperal

     Pvt. John M. Pimperal was born on March 13, 1919, and lived at 620 West Surf Street in Chicago, Illinois.  He was drafted into the army and  became a member of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion while its members were training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. 
    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.  He  married before going overseas.
    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 battalion was boarded onto the U.S.A.T Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th, for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King 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 love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    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.
    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field.  Two members of each tank crew remained with their tanks at all times.  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.  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 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 were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw 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.  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 company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown.  The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.
    Over the next several months, 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.

    On April 9, 1942, at about 6:45 in the morning, the tankers received the order "crash" over their radios.  This meant they were suppose to destroy their tanks and equipment and wait to become Prisoners of War. 
John was among the members of B Company who escaped to Corregidor.  He became a Prisoner of War on May 6, 1942, when Corregidor surrendered.    
    John and the other POWs remained on the island until they were transported by barge close to the shore of Luzon.  They were then ordered to jump overboard and swim to shore.  On shore, they filled in crater holes on a pier.  When they had finished, they were order to form ranks and told they were to be marched to Manila.  Having heard of the march from Bataan many feared they would be treated the same way.  To their surprise, they were treated very well by the Japanese guards.
He first worked on the docks of Manila loading and unloading ships.  He was then sent to Cabanatuan for four months. 

     While a POW at Cabanatuan, a camp orchestra was organized.  John was an accomplished trumpet player and became a member of the camp orchestra.  To help break the routine of the camp, the orchestra played on Wednesday and Saturday nights.  

    As part of their propaganda campaign, the Japanese would broadcast the performances to the rest of the Philippines.  During one of the broadcasts, John was allowed to ask anyone listening to contact his aunt in California.  As it turned out, a short wave radio operator heard the broadcast and contacted his aunt. She in turn contacted John's mother and told her that he was alive and a prisoner in the Philippine Islands.  This was the first news that his family had received from him since the surrender.

    On October 5, 1942, John was sent to Japan on the Tottori Maru.  The trip took 37 days before the prisoners disembarked at Osaka.  During the voyage, the ship stopped at Takao. Formosa, and Pusan, Korea.  POWs being sent to Mukden, Manchuria, disembarked the ship there.   The ship reached Osaka, Japan, on November 11th. 

    In Japan, John was sent to Kawasaki where he worked as a riveter at the Shibaura Electric Works.  The camp was designated Tokyo #3B, and the POWs lived in a baseball stadium.  The prisoners worked nine hour days for the equivalency of two cents for the entire day.  During his time as a POW, John suffered from beriberi and his weight dropped to 126 pounds.

    Life as a POW in Japan meant meals for the prisoners that consisted mostly of cereal and soup, and a bowl of rice, which they received three times a day.  The POWs were often beaten by the head guard for not working hard enough, and they received no food that day.

     On May 1, 1944, the camp was closed. John and the other POWs were transferred to other camps. At this time, it is not known what camp he was held after Tokyo #3B.  John remained a POW until he was liberated by American Forces in September 1945. He weighed 115 pounds when he was liberated.  The one lasting effect of his time as a POW was that John carried scars from his beating as a POW.
    John returned to the Philippines, on the U.S.S. Benevolence, a hospital ship, for medical treatment before being flown to the United States by the Air Transport Command.  He returned to Chicago where he was discharged on April 10, 1946.  When he returned home, he learned that while he was a POW, his wife had divorced him and remarried.  In 1949, John married Frances Westover in Saint Johnsbury, Vermont.
John M. Pimperal passed away on July 6, 2001, in Waterville, Maine.   He was buried in Section C, Row 1, Site 7, at Maine Veterans' Memorial Cemetery, Augusta, Maine.

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