Shaffer

Pvt. Ralph Raymond Shaffer


    Pvt. Ralph R. Shaffer was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 14, 1918.  He grew up on the north side of Chicago at 1605 North Lawndale Avenue and attended the LaSalle Grade School and Lane Technical High School.  

    In anticipation of the United States involvement in World War II, the United States Congress passed a draft act requiring males to serve one year in the military.  In 1941, Ralph was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky.  At Fort Knox, Ralph became a member of Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion which had been an Illinois National Guard Tank Compauy.  The army at the time attempted to fill vacancies in federalized national guard units with men from the same state.  

    Training as a tank crew member was extremely difficult since the Company B initially had only three tanks to train with.  Due to this situation, the men of the company seldom trained with the same crew.
    In the late summer of 1941, Ralph 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 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, 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 love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He made sure they received their Thanksgiving dinner before he went to have his own.
    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, the planes were parked in a straight line outside the mess hall, 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.  The tankers watched what was described as "raindrops" fall from the planes.  The raindrops exploded on the runways.

    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, the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese.  With this act,  Ralph became a Prisoner of War.  He took part in the death march from Mariveles to San Fernando where they boarded trains.  After disembarking the train, the prisoners walked the final miles to Camp O'Donnell.  For Ralph, everything about the march was terrible.  It was too hot and there was not enough water and food.
    Being considered a healthier POW, Ralph was sent to Cabantuan when it was opened.  It is not known if he remained in the camp or went out on a work detail.  The POWs in the camp worked in the camp farm growing food mainly eaten by the Japanese.
   Ralph went out on a work detail to Mariveles to collect scrap metal.  While on the detail, Ralph was sent to Bilibid Prison with what was described as an infected scalp and was admitted on October 13, 1942. 

    After he was released from the hospital on December 2, 1942, Ralph was sent to Camp Murphy were they extended runways at Zablan Airfield. The conditions were harsh and abuse of the POWs was common.  The camp commander killed the POWs just because he could.

   After Camp Murphy, the POWs were sent to Nielsen Airfield on January 29, 1944.  Once again they built runways and revetments at the airfield.  On February 9, 1944, Ralph witnessed an American POW, Pvt. George D. Garrett, bayoneted by the camp commander, Lt. Yoshi Koshi, for planning to escape.  According to the POWs, Garrett and two other men had planned an escape and informed on by the Navy signalman.

   As the American forces approached the Philippines, Ralph's name appeared on a transfer roster on August 20, 1944.  The POWs on the roster were sent back to Bilibid Prison.  Ralph was boarded onto the Japanese freighter the Noto Maru with 1,033 other POWs.  The ship sailed on August 27, 1944.  The ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, on August 29th.  It stayed in harbor for two days.  During its time in the harbor, American B-17s attacked the port but did little damage. 
    The ship sailed on August 31st and arrived at Keelung, Formosa, the same day.  After an overnight stay, the ship sailed for Moji, Japan.  During this part of the voyage, the convoy was attacked by American submarines.  The POWs could not see the flames, but the glow from the flames could seen from the hold.  The Japanese quickly covered the hold.  The ship arrived at Moji, Japan, on September 7, 1944. 

    In Japan, Ralph was sent to Hiroshima  #6, which was known as Omine Machi.  This camp was the Japanese propaganda camp. When the Red Cross visited a camp, it was Omine Machi.  The prison camp that supplied prisoners to work in a coal mine.  Although the prisoners did not receive a great deal of outside news, there were times when they did know how the war was going.  The prisoners knew the war was over when they no longer had to go to work.
    On September 15, 1945, the POWs were liberated and taken to Wkayama, Japan, where they were boarded onto the U.S.S. Consolation.  POW records from the ship show that Ralph was not ill, but that he was malnourished.  The ship arrived at Manila on September 28th, where Ralph received medical treatment and was fattened up.

    Ralph returned to the United States in November of 1945.  He was discharged from the army on May 11, 1946, as a sergeant.  He married and was the father of two sons.  He would later move from Chicago to Indio, California, where he lived for 49 years.  He was employed by the U.S. Post Office until he retired.

    Ralph R. Shaffer passed away on May 20, 2002, in Indio, California, and was buried at Coachella Valley Cemetery in Coachella, California.


 


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