Capt. Ruben H. Schwass
Little is known about Capt. Ruben H. Schwass's
early life except that he was born on July 5,
1901. He was the son of Henry & Augusta
Schwass and the brother of Chris and grew up
in Proviso Township. There is also evidence
that his family had a long history of residing in
River Forest, Illinois.
Capt. Ruben H. Schwass lived at 1305 West Chicago Avenue in Melrose Park, Illinois, with his wife, Helen, and his daughter, Ruth. He was employed, as a meter inspector, by the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois as a meter tester.
Ruben joined the Illinois National Guard's newly formed tank company in Maywood on July 14, 1924, as a private. He rose through the ranks and resigned from the National Guard as a Master Sergeant on November 19, 1940. He reenlisted four days later and was commissioned a 1st Lieutenant on November 23, 1940.
On November 25th, Ruben was called to federal service when the tank company was federalized. With this order, the name of the company was changed to Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion. The company traveled by train to Fort Knox, Kentucky. On April 7, 1941, he was promoted to captain. He was the battalion's supply officer.
Ruben trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then
took part in maneuvers in Louisiana during the
late summer of 1941. It was after these
maneuvers, at Camp Polk, the the 192nd was
informed that their stay in the military had
been extended, and that they were being sent
overseas. Being forty years old, Ruben was
given the opportunity to resign from active
duty. For whatever reason, he chose to go
overseas with the battalion.
In December of 1941, Capt. Ruben Schwass and the other members of 192nd Tank Battalion found themselves involved in some of the first combat action of World War II involving American tank personnel. After four months of battling the Japanese invasion forces, he became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.
As a POW, Ruben took part in the Death March and was first held as a Camp O'Donnell. He was next held at Cabanatuan and then the Port Area of Manila. In November of 1942, Ruben was sent to Japan on the "hell ship" Nagato Maru. When the ship left for Japan, he was already extremely ill. On the ship, were other members of the 192nd Tank Battalion. One of of these men was 2nd Lt. Ben Morin.
The ship arrived in Moji, Kyushu, Japan, on
November 25, 1942, which was Thanksgiving
Day. The POWs disembarked in bitter cold
and wind and were next sent by train to Tanagawa
which was outside of Osaka. The camp was a
"hell hole" infested with lice. It was
terribly cold during the winter, and the food
was terrible with little or no
protein. It was while he was a POW in
Japan that his wife finally received word that
he was POW on December 11, 1942.
Since Ruben was extremely ill with dysentery, he was placed in the "infirmary" section of the camp. The chances of surviving an illness there were not very good since the medics had no medicine.
While Ruben lay ill in bed, his body was covered with lice. 2nd Lt. Ben Morin would visit him and clean him the best he could. In an attempt to delouse Ruben, Lt. Morin would remove Ruben's shirt and pick the lice from it. Lt. Morin would also wash Ruben's underwear in ice cold water and hang them on the barbwire fence in the cold air to shock the lice. By doing this, Lt. Morin could clean the lice from the underwear and guarantee that Ruben had "clean" underwear for another day.
At the age of 42, Capt. Ruben H. Schwass died from dysentery and catarrh pneumonia on April 6, 1943, at 2:30 A.M. near Zentsuji Camp, Japan. According to Lt. Col. Ernest Miller of the 194th Tank Battalion, Schwass' funeral was held on April 7th at 8:30 AM, with the officers lined up on both sides of the path. The pallbearers brought the casket, which was covered with a black cloth, out of the bathhouse to benches and a salute was given. Those present sang, "Sleep Comrade Sleep,"
A chaplain said a prayer and next there was a minute of silence. Officers were posted in two lines from the bathhouse to the camp gate. The two chaplains led the procession followed by the pallbearers carrying the casket. At the gate, the pallbearers placed the casket on a galley cart and took his remains to the crematorium. It is known that 2nd Lt. Henry Knox and 2nd Lt. Ben Morin were two of his pallbearers. Both were members of the 192nd.
At 1:00 PM, Chaplain John May, of the Australian Army, Lt. Morin, and Lt. Knox went to the crematorium and picked up Schwass' ashes. The three men took the ashes to the camp cemetery and buried them. They returned to the camp at 2:30.
In December, 1943, his wife approached the National Jewish Welfare Board for information on him. It was through their efforts that she confirmed his death. A memorial service was held for Capt Ruben Schwass at Saint Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Melrose Park on October 23, 1943.
After the war, his remains were returned to the United States at the request of his family. On August 3, 1949, the remains of Capt. Ruben H. Schwass were reburied at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, next to his wife, Helen, who had passed away in early September 1944.