2nd Lt. Ben Ryan Morin
2nd Lt. Ben R. Morin was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, on August 18,
1919, to Benjamin & Josephine Morin.
With his four sisters and four brothers, he
lived at 1301 South 9th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. On October
15, 1937, Ben enlisted in the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company
which was headquartered in the armory in Maywood. He graduated from Proviso Township High School
in 1938, and after high school worked as a truck driver in the family's trucking company. When he was discharged from the National Guard on October
14, 1940, as a sergeant, he reenlisted the next day with the same rank.
In the fall of 1940, the Maywood Tank Company was called to federal service as Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for training. During his time at Ft. Knox, Ben was given the job of training the "draftees" who had been assigned to the battalion to fill-out the rosters of each company.
In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd was sent to Louisiana to take part in maneuvers. It was after these maneuvers that the 192nd Tank Battalion learned that they had been selected by Gen. George S. Patton for duty in the Philippine Islands. Many of the soldiers were given leave to go home and get their affairs in order. When they returned to Camp Polk, they were sent by train to Angel Island. On the island, they were given physicals and inoculated.
On Thanksgiving Day 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion arrived in the Philippines. At this time Ben held the tank of first sergeant. After arriving in the Philippines, he was discharged as an enlisted man and reenlisted as a second lieutenant. Two weeks later on December 8, 1941, Ben and the other members of the battalion were under attack by the Japanese.
On December 21, 1941, the tanks of the 2nd Platoon of Company B were bivouacked near Dau, Pampamga. At 12:00 noon, Capt. Donald Hanes ordered the tanks to prepare to move north. Lt. Morin's detachment of tanks left Dau at 1300 hours heading toward Rosario. With him were the tanks of S/Sgt. Al Edwards, Sgt. Willard Von Bergen, Sgt. Larry Jordan, and Sgt. Ray Vandenbroucke. The tanks were refueled at Tarlec, Genora, and continued on their journey north.
Well after dark, the tanks stopped at Binalonan for an hour before continuing their movement north in total darkness. At Manaog, the tanks were met by a truck full of gasoline driven by Cpl. Russell Vertuno. After refueling, the tank crews retired for the night. At six in the morning, the tanks continued their journey through Pozurubio and on into Rosario. North of Pozurubio, the tanks came under the observation of Japanese reconnaissance planes, which observed them until they entered the town at about nine in the morning.
At Rosario, Ben's detachment was informed that the 26th United States Cavalry of Filipino Scouts was engaged with advanced Japanese patrols. At ten or ten-thirty in the morning, Ben was given warning orders from Captain Hanes to attack the Japanese. Ben met with General Weaver, who wanted him to attack the Japanese at Agoo, 12 kilometers to the north and west of Damartis on the coastal road. They were to proceed ten kilometers further north to the barrio of Aringay and destroy the enemy forces there. It was believed that the Japanese had not been able to bring in their artillery and tanks.
At about eleven in the morning, Ben's tanks left Rosario and were attacked by Japanese planes. Bombs dropped by the planes exploded along side Ben's tank. Since they were fragmentation bombs, they did no damage. At Damortis, his tanks turned to the north and proceeded toward Agoo.
Just north of Damortis, a scout car of the 26th Cavalry was parked. An American officer informed Ben that the Japanese were a half mile ahead. The tanks proceeded north at a speed of fifteen miles an hour. At this time, Ben tried a trial shot with the 37mm cannon. This resulted in the cannon locking in recoil evidently locked out of battery. The gun would stay jammed throughout the coming engagement.
The Japanese infantry had deployed off the road and hit the dirt very fast. Pvt. Louis Zelis, Ben's tank driver, began to weave the tank so that the stationary machine guns could fire upon the ditches more effectively. Cpl. John Cahill's bow gun kept jamming, but he still went through several 100 round belts of ammunition. Pvt. Steve Gados did a good job of keeping Pvt. Zelis's guns loaded resulting with him going through 1000 rounds of ammunition. Ben was manning the coaxially mounted machine gun in the turret. After awhile, because of problems, Ben had to pull the bolt back by hand before each shot.
About two miles south of Agoo, Ben's tank was hit by a shell on the left side of the hull. The hit knocked the door loose in front of his driver's, Pvt. Louis Zelis, position. Within seconds, a second direct hit tore the door away and left it dangling over the front slope plate of the hull. Ben signaled Pvt. Zelis to pull off the road to the right to take them out of the line of fire. Ben did this to give his crew the chance to put the door back in place before continuing the attack.
While the tank was stopped, a Japanese medium tank charged down on Ben's crew from concealment. The Japanese tank struck Ben's tank full in the left front at the driving sprocket. Pvt. Zelis backed onto the road again and tried to go forward. Since the left driving sprocket was sprung out of line, it was jammed in the track. The motive power of the right track pulled Ben's tank off the road to the left. More shells struck the tank on the right side of the hull and in the right rear. One shell pierced the armor and entered the battery case causing the engines to stop. The radio and forward guns went dead, and the engine caught fire resulting in smoke entering the fighting compartment. Ben yelled "Gas!" to his men who put on their gas masks. Pvt. Zelis climbed out of his seat and turned on the fire extinguishers. Within a few minutes the heat had become unbearable but the fire was out.
Through the smoke Ben could see the remaining four tanks of his platoon withdrawing to the south. He had hoped that Sgt. Al Edwards could have broken through the Japanese guns on the road and the second platoon would overrun the Japanese landing area at Agoo. After about fifteen minutes, the Japanese ceased firing and four Japanese light tanks approached Ben's tank. His tank was 50 to 75 yards off the road in a dry, hard rice field. To prevent the Japanese from firing into the damaged right front of his tank, Ben climbed out of his tank and surrendered his crew.
Ben and the members of his crew spent the first three months as Prisoners of War in Agoo and Bauang. The Japanese would not acknowledge the Americans as POWs but as "captives." They were joined by four other captured Americans. A ninth prisoner, an officer, was not allowed to associate with them. Ben believed he was later executed. As prisoners, Ben and the other men refused to bow to the Japanese, but they would salute officers. The Japanese were not happy about this, but they did not press the point.
During his time as a POW at Bauang, Ben and another American officer, Lt. W. Robert Parks, of the 57th Infantry Regiment Philippine Scouts witnessed the execution of two Filipino POWs by the Japanese. The two Americans watched as a Japanese officer beat the men to death with a baseball bat.
In late March, 1942, Ben and the other prisoners were sent to Tarlac. It was there that they came under the control of the Japanese military governor Capt. Tsuneyoshi. He later became the commandant of Camp O'Donnell. The first night at Tarlac, Capt. Tsuneyoshi sent two NCOs into the jail to persuade the POWs to bow. Ben recalled being slugged and beaten. In response to this, the POWs met and decided that it would be best to bow if they hoped to survive. The next morning the POWs bowed to the Japanese. To them, they had achieved a small victory because the Japanese had to use force to make them bow.
In June, 1942, Ben was taken from Tarlac to Camp #1 at Cabanatuan which had just opened. It was there that Ben was reunited with the survivors of the Provisional Tank Group. Disease in the camp was rampant; Ben suffered like everyone else from dengue fever, scurvy, pellagra, beriberi, and dysentery. The thing that really shocked Ben about the camp was the "dog-eat-dog" mentality of the American soldiers and some of the officers. In the camp, there was a partial breakdown of authority. He found mistrust, selfishness, whining and complaining.
It was at Cabanatuan that Ben also received a blanket. Up to this time, all Ben had were the clothes on his back, his cavalry boots, a rag for a towel, which he used to cover his face at night against the mosquitoes, and a burlap sack which he used for bedding.
Ben was next selected to be sent to Japan. One of the worst experiences he had as a POW was the trip from Cabanatuan to Manila in a steel boxcar. The train crossed the Pampanga Plain in an all day trip. As the day went on, the interior of the car grew hotter and hotter. Most of the time, Ben spent in a semi-conscious or unconscious state. The doors had been left open about twelve inches, but Ben was in the front of the car where there seemed to be no air. When they arrived in Manila, the prisoners were paraded through the streets down to the Port Area to Pier #7.
The POWs were boarded onto the ship Nagato Maru on November 4, 1942. They were driven into the bottom of the hold at bayonet-point. Ben recalled that the heat and stench in the hold were terrific. This was his home for the next three weeks.
In the hold, he was reunited with Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, Capt. Reuben Schwass, Lts. Tom Savage and Richard Danca, and Sgt. Jack Griswold. Capt. Schwass, Lt. Danca and Sgt. Griswold were in bad shape. Lt. Richard Danca died while the ship was docked at Takao, Formosa, on November 11, 1942. His body was taken ashore and cremated. Ben believed his ashes were given to Col. Wickord for safe keeping.
The ship sailed on November 17th for the Pescadores Islands. Arriving there, it dropped anchor for the night. The next day, it sailed for Keelung , Formosa, arriving there the same day. On November 20th the ship sailed for Moji, Japan.
On November 24, 1942, the ship arrived at Moji, Japan. The POWs disembarked in bitter cold and wind wearing ragged thin cotton uniforms. Then by ferry, the POWs were taken to Himoneski, Honshu. The prisoners were next loaded onto a train and took a long ride along the northern side of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. There the prisoners were divided into two groups. Ben, along with 500 other POWs, was sent to Tanagawa outside of Osaka.
"We marched into Tanagawa at nightfall. There were five new barracks very flimsily constructed with dirt floors and paper thin walls coming to six inches off the floor. The barracks were very cold. There were two decks of bunks with a ladder going up every twenty feet to the second deck which was 8 to 10 feet off the ground. Shoes had to be taken off at the foot of the ladder. At the foot of each bunk were five synthetic blankets made out of peanut shell fiber and a rigid pillow in the shape of a small cylinder packed with rice husks. The barracks had no heat and with temperatures falling below freezing, the conditions were pretty tough. After coming from the tropics, this was quite a shock to your system."
The camp was a "hell hole" and proved to be a death camp. It was there that Ben had his first experience with lice. He also suffered from diarrhea and intestinal cramps. Within a couple of weeks, Sgt. Jack Griswold, who had graduated from Proviso Township High School with Ben, wasted away to a skeleton and died.
Ben was unaware of Sgt. Jack Griswold's death. One day, he was assigned to the burial detail working with 2nd Lt. Henry M. Knox of A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion. The two soldiers went to the designated area to pick up a body of a POW who had died. They lifted the body onto the burial cart. One man would pull the cart while the other man pushed. Ben looked down and recognized the dead POW as Sgt. Jack Griswold his high school classmate. Morin and Knox collected the necessary wood and took Sgt. Griswold's remains to a crematorium. They then returned his ashes to the camp commandant.
In mid-January, 1943, Ben was one of 150 officers who left Tanagawa and sent by rail to the Island of Shikoku to a camp at Zentsuji. This was to be his home for the next two and one half years. In all, there were 700 officers and enlisted men in the camp. There he met American officers who were not captured in the Philippines. He also met British and Australian officers.
At this time, Capt. Reuben Schwass was in the infirmary because he too was on the verge of death. Ben would visit Capt. Schwass and remove his lice covered shorts. Captain Schwass was also suffering from dysentery. Ben would wash Capt Schwass's shorts and allow the cold water and temperature to shock the lice which made them easy to remove. Ben would hang the shorts on the barbed wire fence surrounding the camp. The next day Capt. Schwass would have "clean" shorts to wear. Without the proper medical attention, Capt. Rueben Schwass died from his illness.
The final camp Ben was held at was Rokuroshi which opened on June 25, 1945. The camp was located next to the great Zen temple about twenty miles northeast of Ono. He remained at this camp until he was liberated by the American Occupational Forces.
When he returned to the United States on October 10, 1945, he found that his parents had purchased a new home in Maywood. He was discharged on June 30, 1946. Ben joined the Society of Jesus which is better known as "The Jesuits" on September 1, 1946. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and worked as a missionary in Peru for 38 years. Today, he resides in a Jesuit retirement home in Clarkston, Michigan.