Sgt. John Elliott Rowland
John E. Rowland was born on July 7, 1917, in Westerville, Ohio, to Hugh and Hazel
Rowland. He was raised, just outside of Westerville at 7010
Cleveland Avenue, on a small farm.
At that time, the town had a population of 2,000
people, He attended grade school and high school in Westerville
and was a member of the Westerville High School Class of 1935. He
next went to Wheeling Business College in Wheeling, West Virginia, and
Ohio State University. He worked in the classified advertising
department of The Westerville Dispatch.
On January 20, 1941, John was inducted into the United States Army. He was one of the first men from Westerville to be drafted. After induction, he was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. According to John, he had basic training in "Tent City." He recalled the conditions were muddy and cold during the winter and hot and dusty in the summer. In March, 1941, John was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank Battalion in March. John was trained to do reconnaissance in scout cars and to use firearms. He recalled that the company had scout cars, motorcycles, and its own tanks.
John viewed his time in the army as a vacation. he was drafted with the belief that after a year of service, he would be released and go home. He enjoyed what he described as, "a change of life style."
In September 1941, the 192nd was sent by convoy to take part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941. He recalled that there was a shortage of equipment, especially firearms, so wooden guns were used and also wooden rifles. Tanks had signs hanging from their sides indicating what type of tank they were.
After the maneuvers, they were sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana. It was there that they learned they were being sent overseas. John stated they loaded their new tanks onto flat cars and cosmolined all firearms. By train, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco where they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island. During this time he rose in rank from private, to private first class, to corporal, to sergeant.
The 192nd Tank Battalion left Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay, for the Philippine Islands on the Hugh L. Scott. The date was October 27th. During the voyage, he recalled that the only special training the soldiers received was not to eat the local food or drink the water. After a stop in Hawaii, John and the other members of the battalion arrived in the Philippines, at Manila, on November 20th and were immediately sent to Fort Stotsenburg. The 192nd was housed in tents on the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. It was at Fort Stotsenburg, that the reconnaissance platoon received new halftracks to replace the reconnaissance cars that they had trained with at Fort Knox. The halftracks were armored and the bodies of the halftracks had 3/8 of an inch armored plating.
The morning of December 8, 1941, about 6:30 AM, John's company was in their chow line when they heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He recalled that the battalion was put on full alert. At noon, he and other members of his company were listening to Tokyo Rose. She reported that Clark Field had been bombed. He and the other men got a good laugh out of this report since they were at Clark Field and there wasn't a Japanese plane in sight. At 12:45 that afternoon, this would all change.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, John lived through the bombing of Clark Field by the Japanese. He like everyone else tried to fond cover. The tankers had nothing to shoot at the bombers. When the fighters came in to strafe the airfield, the tankers fought back with their 50 caliber machineguns.
The tank battalion was sent out of Clark Field to an area near Mount Arayat. On the 22nd of December they were sent to Lingayen Gulf where the Japanese had landed troops. He recalled that after the attack, the tanks were repeated sent on wild goose chases against factious Japanese paratroopers.
John recalled that his reconnaissance platoon was sent north of Cabanatuan where it made contact with the Japanese. In John's own words, " My reconnaissance platoon went up Route 3, as far as Pozorrubia - then we came back south and cut over to Route 5, and went to a point just north of Cabanatuan. The dates I don't recall.
The Japs were coming down Route 5 were not from Linguyan Gulf, at least I was told that. I became acquainted with Jap artillery, at that time, and the Japs crossed Pampanga River while I was there. Lt. Gentry's platoon of tanks responded when we notified battalion headquarters that we were in contact with the Japs."
During the next four months he took part in the long slow withdrawal into the Bataan Peninsula. John was in reconnaissance. This meant he had his own halftrack and two halftracks under his command. It was his job to reconnoiter the Japanese. Another job he had was to look for snipers. Finding snipers was never a problem.
The role of the tanks was to hold the line so the infantry could disengage and drop back to the new defensive line. Once this was done the tanks withdrew.
During this struggle, John was a spectator at one of the first tank engagements involving American tanks in World War II. Near Cabanatuan, the halftrack John was assigned to made contact with Japanese forces and radioed for help. C Company responded with tanks and engaged the Japanese tanks and infantry. It was evening so darkness caused a break in the engagement. During the night, C Company withdrew without any casualties. The number of Japanese casualties was unknown. John witnessed several more skirmishes as the Filipino and American Forces withdrew into Bataan.
John recalled he was sent to the center of Bataan to hold a pass that it was rumored that the Japanese were going to attempt to use to break their defensive line. At that moment, the Japanese had broken through on the east side of Bataan. They received orders to destroy their halftracks and report back to headquarters six miles away.
On April 9, 1942, by radio, John and the other members of his platoon received the news that the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan had been surrendered to the Japanese. His platoon destroyed their three halftracks and made their way back to HQ. At first, John was relieved to know that the continual bombing and shelling by the Japanese was over, but in a very short time, he realized that this feeling of relief was a mistake. This realization occurred with the start of the death march.
John recalled that the prisoners on the march were not fed, they did not receive water, and they often received the "sun treatment" by being left sitting in the sun for hours. After this, when they were forced to proceed with the march, they realized that many men had died or had heatstroke, which prevented them continuing on the march. These prisoners were either bayoneted or shot by the Japanese guards. It was also on the march that John witnessed the Japanese bury three American Prisoners Of War while they were still alive. How long it took John to complete the march is unknown since he had lost track of the days.
At San Fernando, the POWs were herded into a fenced schoolyard. John recalled that one of the worst things he saw was the Japanese bury three Americans. Two of the Americans were still alive. One attempted to climb out of the grave and was hit with a shovel. He was then buried.
The POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars that could hold eight horses or forty men. Each car held 100 men. At Capas, the living climbed out and the bodies of the dead fell to the floors of the cars.
John was first held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell and then Cabanatuan. At each camp, he was a member of work details. He recalled that able bodied prisoners who remained in the camps dug latrines, dug graves, and carried the bodies of the dead. John stated that many of those who died were buried without being identified. These details were referred to as "bun" details because the POWs on them received a bun with their meals.
While at Camp O'Donnell, on May 8th, he was went back to Bataan as part of a scrap metal detail. The prisoners on this detail savaged vehicles that were shipped to Japan as scrap. It was also on this detail that John experienced his first act of kindness from a Japanese guard. A guard seeing that John was ill, gave John B-1 tablets and bulk to help him with his beriberi. When the detail ended on June 20th, John was sent to the new POW camp Cabanatuan.
John did not remain at Cabanatuan long. On June 29th, John was part of a detail that was sent out to rebuild bridges that been destroyed by the retreating Filipino and American Forces. On this detail, John was the recipient of a second act of kindness by a Japanese soldier. The Japanese officer in charge of the detail, noticing that John appeared to be dying, called in a Filipino doctor to treat John's malaria. John believed that since the officer had been educated in the United States, he was kinder to the Americans. This detail ended on September 8th, and the POWs were returned to Cabanatuan.
On October 6, 1942, John and another 2000 POW's were sent to the dock area of Manila. On October 8th, they were boarded onto Totori Maru and shipped north. The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck. John was one of the lucky POWs who remained on deck. According to him, conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck. This was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed.
Shortly after leaving Manila, the Totori Maru came under a torpedo attack by an American submarine. John watched as all three torpedoes shot at the ship missed. After a stop at Takao, Formosa. The ship sailed for a small island off Formosa. It was at this island that it rode out a typhoon. The ship returned to Takao and finally sailed for Korea.
After 31 days on the ship, the Totori Maru docked at Pusan, Korea. 1300 POW's got off the ship and were sent on a four day train trip north to Mukden, Manchuria. The 400 POWs who remained on the ship were sent to Japan.
John was imprisoned first at Hoten Camp and sent to Mukden Prison Camp on November 11, 1942. Most of the POWs at Mukden worked at a machine tool and die factory. There, they were suppose to be producing a German copy of the American Brown & Sharp Automatic screw machine. John worked as a janitor and hauled coal from the coal pile to the boilers. In addition, he worked in the office at the camp and also made wooden cubes to be used in charcoal burning vehicles. To John's knowledge, none of the machines were ever completed or shipped in the three years he was there.
Other prisoners also worked away from the main camp in the smaller satellite camps. At these camps, the prisoners produced leather, steel, textiles and lumber. About 100 prisoners worked in each of these camps.
While John was a POW in the camp, a fire broke out in one of the buildings. John went into the building and saved the lives of Japanese employees who were in the building. For his action, he received a written commendation and ten packs of cigarettes.
One of the hardest things that the prisoners at the camp had to deal with was the weather. It was so cold that the POWs grew beards to protect their faces. If a prisoner died, he could not be buried until the ground had thawed in the spring.
During John's time at Mukden, his mother received a short wave message from West Coast ham radio operators. In the message, John stated he had received mail and a Red Cross package.
On August 16, 1945, a team of Office of Strategic Services personnel were dropped by parachute in the vicinity of the camp. Late in the day, they were trucked into the camp and met with the Japanese commander. On the 17th, the ranking American Officer in the camp, General Parker, was called to meet with the camp commander and the O.S.S. team. Later that day, General Parker told the POWs that there was a truce. It was not August 20th that the prisoners learned that the war was over. An Russian officer and troops came to the camp and disarmed the Japanese guards. The guards were then turned over to the POWs in a very formal ceremony. At 7:23 p.m., the POWs were declared free men.
The main body of former POWs left Mukden in two groups. John was in the first group that left Mukden on September 11, 1945 by train for Darien, China. John left Darien on the U.S.S. Relief, a hospital ship, on September 12. After a three day trip, he disembarked the Relief at Okinawa. On September 19th, John was flown to Manila, where he boarded the S.S. Robert L. Hodge for San Francisco. After arriving in San Francisco on September 27, John was hospitalized at Letterman General Hospital. On October 19, 1945, John was placed on a hospital train for Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio. On October 27, 1945, John made his first visit home. Almost four years to the date that he had last seen his family. John was discharged from the army on April 8, 1946.
John returned to Westerville and married, Virginia Mae Weibel on March 26, 1946. He was the father of two children and lived on the family farm for most of his life. He also worked for the Veterans Administration and the Defense Supply Center. When his health began to fail, he and his wife sold the farm and moved into an assisted living community.
For his service to his country, John was awarded the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic Campaign Medal, Bronze Star, American Defense Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster, American Campaign Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge. He was a past president of The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.
John Rowland passed away in February 9, 2004, in Westerville, Ohio.