Cpl. James Robert Martin


 

     Cpl. James Robert Martin was the son of Harry and Margaret Martin.  He was born on December 3, 1918.  As a child he grew up first in Lombard, Illinois, and then moved to 1409 South Sixth Avenue in Maywood.  He was a graduate of Garfield Grade School and a 1937 graduate of Proviso Township High School.  He was known as "Bob" to his friends.

    In 1939, Bob joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Maywood to be with his friend Harry K. Johnson.  As it turned out, when the company was federalized in November of 1940, only Bob would go with the company to Fort Knox, Kentucky. 

    At Ft. Knox,  the company became B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  There, they would be trained to operate all the equipment of the tank battalion and qualified as a tank driver.  In mid-summer of 1941, the battalion was sent to Louisiana to take part in the maneuvers of 1941. When the maneuvers began, they were unaware that they had been selected for duty in the Philippine Islands to boaster the American military presence there.

    In October, 1941, the battalion left Angel Island in San Francisco Bay for the Philippines.  Bob and the other members of the battalion disembarked in Manila and were sent immediately to Fort Stotsenburg.  It was Thanksgiving Day and their meal was the leftovers from the 194th Tank Battalion.  For the next two weeks, the members of the battalion loaded ammunition belts and did other work to ready their equipment for the further training they were scheduled to receive. 

    On December 8, 1941, December 7th in the United States, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bob lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field.  The tanks had been given the duty of guarding the perimeter of the airfield.  

   On December 22, 1941, Bob was sent north to Agoo as a member of the tank crew of S/Sgt. Al Edwards.  All the members of his tank crew were from Maywood.  It had been reported to the Americans that the Japanese had landed troops near there.  In response, a platoon of tanks under the command of Lt. Ben Morin was sent north to Lingayen Gulf to engage the enemy and to allow the the 26th U. S. Calvary to disengage from the battle.  

    Bob, as the tank driver, was sitting next to his friend from Maywood, Henry Deckert.  It was during the Battle of Agoo, that Bob saw Henry die when a 40 millimeter shell hit the machine gun port.  The concussion from the shell came through the port and decapitated Deckert.  Bob was covered in Deckert's blood but continued to drive the tank.

    For the next four months, Bob would take part in the Battle of Bataan as the Filipino and American forces attempted to stall the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands.  On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces on the Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.  It was on this date that Bob became a Prisoner of War.  

    Bob recalled that many of the POWs were already ill when they began the march to Camp O'Donnell.  Many of the men were barely able to march.  The prisoners were covered with mud which resulted in sores. Their feet also blistered from the march.  

    Bob recalled that the heat on the march was intolerable, and those who begged for water were beaten by the guards with their rifle butts because they had asked.  Those who were exhausted or suffering from dysentery and dropped to the side of the road were shot or clubbed to death. 

    Food on the march was minimal, when it was given to the prisoners, each would receive a pint of boiled rice.  The Filipino people seeing the condition of the prisoners attempted to aid them by passing food to the Americans.  If the Filipinos were caught doing this, they were beheaded.  By the time the POWs arrived at Camp O'Donnell, they were half starved and half dead.  Bob would spend six weeks at Camp O'Donnell.

    Bob was sent in May of 1942 to Cabanatuan Camp #1.  He would remain there until July of 1943.  Life in the camp was one of endless punishment.  Bob remembered that the prisoners were punched in the mouths, made to stand bareheaded, at attention, in the sun until they passed out.  They were also kicked in the stomach or hit with rifle butts.  Hundreds died everyday due to the torture and poor health.  Each morning, the surviving POWs would see the piled corpses of the men who had died during the night.

    It was while Bob was in this camp that he became extremely ill.  Bob was so ill that he was taken to what was called the camp hospital.  The hospital was a hospital in name only since the POWs had little to no medicine to treat the sick.  Bob was given a place in the hospital next to his friend from high school Bob Bronge.  It was while he was in the hospital that Bob watched Bob Bronge die from dysentery.

    In July of 1943, Bob was sent to Bilibid Prison in Manila to await transport to Japan.  He was boarded on the Clyde Maru in late July 1943.  The ship sailed on July 23rd and arrived at Moji, on August 7th.  Upon arrival in Japan, Bob was sent to Fukuoka #17 at Omuta, Japan and given the Bongo number of 98.   The prisoners at this camp were used as slave labor to extract coal from a mine that had been closed years before because it was considered too dangerous to work.  Work in the mine was dangerous, and as they worked, the miners had rats crawling all over them. 

    One day, as Bob worked, there was a cave-in.  Bob was seriously injured and when he could walk again, he was assigned to work in the camp kitchen.  While assigned to the kitchen, Bob was responsible for saving the lives of at least a dozen POWs by bringing them food while they were confined to the camp's internal guardhouse.   To do this, Bob had to sneak pass the Japanese guards without being seen.  He also had to make sure that he did not spill a grain of rice.  If he had been caught, he would have been killed instantly.  The men in the guardhouse all were aware of the risk Bob took to do this.  One of them, Lester (Tennenberg) Tenney, a member of his own company, would speak of Bob's actions for years.  Both men would remain friends for life.

    For Bob, life as a POW was not easy.  Bob had to use every bit of strength that he could muster to stay alive.  With his physical and mental condition getting worse each day, Bob did not know how long he could survive.  He would pray that the war would soon end and that somehow he would make it home.  

    One day, Bob witnessed an explosion over Nagasaki.  To him, it was a sign that the war would soon be over.  As he watched, he kept saying to himself that the war was over and that they all would be going home.  Like most of the POWs, Bob believed that if the atomic bomb had not been dropped, he and the other POWs, would have been executed when the American invasion of Japan had begun. 

    Bob returned to Maywood, married and raised a family.  For the rest of his life, the one lasting effect of his experience on Bataan was that Bob relived Henry Deckert's death in his dreams.  Bob served the Maywood community as a fireman until his retirement from the Maywood Fire Department.  He and his wife would later move to Florida.  

    Bob Martin passed away on August 31, 1997.

Credit: Jim Opolony: 192nd & 194th Tank Battalion

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