Major John Coffinberry Morley
Maj. John C. Morley was the oldest of five children born to Lieutenant Commander John Edward Morley and Nadine Morgan Coffinberry-Morley. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 6, 1904. As a child, he lived at 10819 Magnolia Avenue in Cleveland and attended school in Cleveland.
After graduating high school, John attended Yale University. He next went to law school at Harvard where he earned a law degree. Sometime during this period, John enlisted in the Army Reserve. He remained in the reserve reaching the rank of captain.
John married and with his wife, Gretchen, and adopted a son, David. The family resided at 2912 Weybridge Road in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
In late 1941, John was called to federal service and joined the 192nd Tank Battalion at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon his joining the company, he was made the commanding officer of Headquarters Company. Later, he was given the duty of intelligence officer, or S-2, for the battalion. Officially, John was an unattached member of the battalion.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1941, John arrived with the 192nd in the Philippine Islands as a captain. He and the other members performed their duties as they prepared for maneuvers which would never come.
After living through the attack on Clark Air Field on December 8, 1941, John's job was to make sure that the different tank platoons of the 192nd were in contact with Headquarters Company. He also provided information on the Japanese to the companies.
During the fight against the Japanese, John often went out on reconnaissance gathering information on Japanese positions. He also went out repeatedly, contacting the tank companies to see what their needs were. During these missions, John often came under attack by the Japanese. He recalled in a letter home the bombings and strafing by Japanese planes.
On one occasion, as part of his job, John was sent into the jungle to find the surviving members of a Japanese bomber that had been shot down. John returned from this assignment having captured the Japanese bomber crew.
A platoon of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion tanks, was sent north to Damortis. The Japanese had landed troops at Lingayen Gulf. John went north with the company. At Gerona, the company ran out of gas and waited for trucks. One platoon was sent north to support the 26th U.S. Calvary of the Philippine Scouts.
On December 25th, John was in one of the tanks assigned to HQ Company of the 192nd. The Japanese were involved in a battle with the tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion. The tank was parked under the canopy of a gas station near Carmen. Pfc. Wayne Buggs tuned the tanks radio to the 194th's frequency. As the they listened to the battle, Morley attempted to follow the action on a map. John and the tank's crew sat in the tank listening to the battle while shells landed around them. As the battle got closer to them, the decision was made to move their tank back to a safer location.
During the Battle of Bataan, a platoon of C Company tanks, under the command of Lt. William Gentry, came into contact with a Japanese force at the Filipino barrio of Bailiuag. The Japanese needed to use the bridge across the Calumpit River which had not been blown up. Gentry ordered his tank crews to hide their tanks in the huts at the south end of the barrio.
John had lost contact with the tanks and wanted to know what had happened to them. The tanks not wanting to reveal themselves had kept radio silence. All that John knew was that the tanks were in the area of Bailiuag. Late in the afternoon, John drove into the barrio looking for the tanks. The Japanese had crossed the river and had placed lookouts in the church tower at the north end of the town. Seeing John in his jeep caused a commotion among the Japanese. John realizing that he was about to blow the cover of the tanks got back into his jeep and drove away as if nothing had happened. The tanks would later attack and wipe out a platoon of Japanese tanks.
During the Battle of the Pockets, the tanks were sent north to help wipe the pockets out. John did reconnaissance on foot across the front. While doing this he was under constant enemy fire.
On December 31st, the 192nd had been ordered to drop back to new positions. Once the battalion had established its new headquarters, John noticed that the medical detachment was missing, so he went looking for them. When he found them, he learned that they had never received the order to drop back. He told Capt. Alvin Poweleit that the Japanese were now behind them and that the best way to get to the new front line was to cross a river.
On February 6, 1942, while performing reconnaissance to coordinate tank action in front of two American divisions in the II Corp sector of Bataan, John received the Silver Star. According to the citation, he managed to deploy tanks in conditions that were not suitable for tanks. While doing this, he often put himself in harm's way by crossing the frontline on foot under enemy fire. It was sometime after this that John was promoted to major. He told his wife in a letter home that he was expecting the promotion.
It was April 8th, when the news of a possible surrender began to spread among the soldiers. John like many others took the news as being free from the constant shelling and air raids. At the time, the Provisional Tank Group's headquarters was near Limay. Corregidor had no idea that the barrio was still in American hands and was shelling the area. That night, he watched as ammunition dumps were destroyed. There was a loud thud and flames shot into the sky.
Before the surrender, John saw Col. Cliff Williams of General King's staff who had come to his bivouac on the back of a motorcycle at 6:00 in the morning. Gen. King had given him a letter for Gen. Homa of the Japanese army. Williams looked at John and said, "Morley, never in my life did I ever conceive of being required to carry out such a bitter task as this." Morley offered Williams the use of his jeep and driver, Cpl. William Burns.
On April 8th, John made his way to Lamao with orders to send three tank companies north, in a last stand movement, from which, he knew, few would return. About midnight. the order was revoked, and he was told to prepare the tankers to destroy their equipment. It was when the ammunition dumps went up in great explosions and flames that he knew the a decision had been made.
John was also involved in the destruction of B Company tanks. After the crews had opened the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the tanks. The last tank would not blow up, so John personally dropped the grenade into it. Afterward, he and Captain Robert Sorenson, the commander of B Company, made their way to the tank group headquarters.
At HQ, he saw General Weaver. In John's opinion the general looked tired. He also believed that Weaver wanted to fight to the death instead of surrendering. John then made his way to Hospital #1 to get Capt. Alvin Poweleit. During the trip, he saw his first Japanese troops. His driver pulled the jeep into their tank column and followed them to the hospital. Since Poweleit could not leave until the evening, Robert made his way back to tank group command. He went to sleep that nigh wondering what lay in store the next morning.
The next morning John was awakened by the sound of grunts. John's field bag was packed, and he was able to put canned food and an additional set of clothes in it. When the Japanese arrived, he able to take the bag with the food with him.
On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road. In a letter home, John told of how walking on the gravel trail was difficult. John recalled that he witnessed "Japanese Discipline." If a prisoner fell, he was kicked in his stomach and hit in the head with a rifle butt. If he still did not get up, the Japanese guard determined that the man was exhausted.
When the trail the POWs were on reached the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separated the officers from the enlisted men. The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day. That night they were ordered north. The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking. Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier.
At one point, John saw Filipino civilians who were making their way down the road. He could not believe how thin they were. Yes, he and the other soldiers had been hungry, but these people had starved.
The POWs made their way north against the flow of Japanese troops who were moving south. At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a school yard and told that the officers would be driven to the POW camp. There, he and Major Havelock Nelson shared a can of mushroom soup.
At 4:00 AM, the officers were put into trucks for an unknown destination. They were taken to Balanga, disembarked, and ordered to put their field bags in front of them for inspection. During the inspection, one officer was found to have an automatic gun in his bag. As punishment the POWs were not fed. They set in a paddy all day and were ordered to move near sunset. They were made to march as punishment for the gun being in the bag. They reached Orani on April 12th at three in the morning.
At Orani, John and the others were put into a bin. They were ordered to lay down. In the morning, John and the other men realized that they had been lying in the human waste of POWs who had already used the bin. At noon, he received his first food. It was a meal of rice and salt. Later in the day, other POWs arrived in Orani. One group was the enlisted members of the tank group. They had walked the entire way to the barrio.
At 6:30 that evening, John resumed the march. John recalled that this part of the march was different. The POWs were marched at a faster pace. The guards also seemed to be nervous about something. This time they made the POWs made their way to Hormosa. There, the road went from gravel to concrete. John found that this change of surface made the march easier. When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets. John received one of these jabs.
The POWs continued the march. For the first time in months, it began to rain. John stated the rain felt great. At 4:30 PM on April 13th, he arrived at San Fernando. The POWs were once again put into a bin. At 4:00 in the morning, the Japanese woke the POWs and marched them to the train station. They were packed into small wooden boxcars and rode the train to Capas arriving there at 9:00 AM. There, they disembarked from the cars and walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
John recalled this was the worse part of the march. It was short, but most of the POWs were exhausted. It was during this portion of the march that Major Havelock Nelson began to have problems. He fell and was carried by John and Capt. Malcolm Fowler, 26th Cavalry, Philippine Scouts, the rest of the way to Camp O'Donnell. Arriving at the camp. the two men placed Nelson by a hut with his field bag. It was the last time John ever saw Nelson.
On June 4th, John was transferred to Cabanatuan. He remained in the camp until until October 26, 1942, when he was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila. He remained in the prison until October 28th, when he was taken to the Port Area of Manila and boarded onto the Erie Maru. The ship sailed for Iloilo, Mindanao and also stopped at Cebu before arriving at Lasang, Mindanao. The entire trip took two weeks. John's diary noted that he arrived at the Davao Penal Colony on November 11, 1942. The colony was sixty kilometers from the barrio of Davao.
During John's time on Davao, he was held in a POW camp with 1800 other prisoners. The POWs were housed in eight barracks. Each barrack held 180 men. The former chapel was also used as a barracks housing 300 POWs. The POWs did road work and cut fire wood. They also worked in rice paddies, raised chickens, pigs, and cattle. But, the POWs were not allowed to eat any of these animals.
Many of the POWs became ill with what John called, "Rice Sickness". This illness was caused by a POW cutting his foot or leg on a rice stalk. The POW developed a rash and suffered from severe swelling. If a POW bruised himself, the bruise developed into a ulcer. Most, if not all the prisoners, suffered from malaria.
As the American forces got closer to the Philippine Islands the Japanese began to send as many POWs to Japan or other occupied countries as possible. On June 6, 1944, the Japanese sent John and other POWs to Cebu by ship. From Cebu on the Teiryu Maru, he was sent back to Manila on June 24, 1944. John and the other POWs were returned to Bilibid Prison. On June 28th, he was then returned to Cabanatuan.
John was returned to Bilibid, a third time, on October 12, 1944. This time he was being processed for shipment to Japan. He remained in the prison until December 13, 1944, John and 1618 other POWs were boarded onto the Oryoku Maru and sailed for Japan on December 14th as part of a convoy.
Off the coast of Luzon on the 14th of December, the ships came under attack by American fighters. The Americans had no idea that the ship was carrying POWs. The ship avoided being bombed by "playing dead."
The Oryoku Maru arrived at Olonngo City in Subic Bay at 2:30 in the morning. When the sun rose, the attacks continued. This time the ship took several hits. The Japanese abandoned the ship leaving the American POWs in the holds.
When the Japanese gave the order for the POWs to abandon ship, they told the prisoners that they would have to swim to shore. Some guards fired into the hold before the POWs got out of them.
Once in the water, John and the other prisoners were fired upon by Japanese machineguns. It was at this time that the American planes stopped the attack. The pilots seeing so many men climbing out of the holds realized that the ship had been carrying POWs. After it had been abandoned, the ship was sunk by American planes on December 15th.
John and the other men were herded onto tennis courts at a country club. They remained there until December 20th. While the POWs were at the country club, the Japanese asked if there were any POWs too sick to make the trip to Japan. Those who said they were too sick to go on were taken into the mountains and never seen again.
John and the remaining POWs were taken to San Fernando, Pampanga and lived in a jail. They were taken by train back to San Fernando, La Union. Finally, they were boarded onto the Enoura Maru on December 27th. The ship sailed for Japan and arrived at Formosa. While the Enoura Maru was at anchor off Formosa, it came under attack by American planes. One bomb is known to have exploded in the hold killing many American POWs. Because of the damage done to the ship, the survivors were transferred to the Brazil Maru.
Of the 1619 Americans who boarded the Oryoku Maru, only 450 survived the sinking of the two ships. Major John C. Morley was not one of them. It is not known how and when he was wounded, but it is known that Maj. John C. Morley died from his wounds on Thursday, January 18, 1945 on the Brazil Maru. After he died, his body was thrown into the sea.
Since Maj. John C. Morley died at sea, his name appears on the Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery at Manila. His family also had his name placed on a headstone in Section 13, Row 9 - 1, at Evergreen Cemetery, Painesville, Ohio.