Raymond Tomczak was born Sept. 9, 1926, to Stanislaw and Agnes Tomczak outside of Brenham, Texas. In 1944, at the age of 18, Raymond Tomczak enlisted in the United States Army.
“It was about two weeks after I enlisted that I reported to Houston, passed my test, and was on a train to Fort Riley, Kansas for my basic training in the U.S. Army,” recalled Tomczak. “I trained for eight weeks, then went home for two weeks before taking a train to Camp Anza in California. At Camp Anza, I became a United States Army Provost Marshal. I remember being in front of what must have been a quarter of a million troops standing in formation, talking to them over a loudspeaker teaching them how to stay alive in battle. When you approach a house, you approach from the corner; in the jungle, you stay close to a tree. This helps you stay covered to keep from getting shot. I know my training saved many lives.
“Time came for me to be shipped overseas to the Asiatic Pacific Theatre. You don’t really know where you are going, you just get on the troop ship and go where it takes you. We soon found out we were heading to invade the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. On our way, we were hit by a typhoon near Wake Island and everyone had to get off the deck and go below. Later, we were put on high alert and our sailors mounted their guns for what I thought was going to be an air attack. Instead, the Japanese had tied buoys together full of explosives to blow up our ship, but our artillery sailors knocked them out of commission. As we neared Mindanao, the troop ship could only get so close, so in full field dress, loaded down with your guns and equipment, we boarded a barge for a beach landing.”
Per Battle of Mindanao
The campaign for Mindanao posed the greatest challenge for the liberating allied forces, primarily for three reasons: island’s inhospitable geography; extended entrenched Japanese defenses; and strength in numbers and physical condition of the Japanese forces located there. Mindanao contained the highest remaining concentration of combat troops in the Philippines.
Tomczak continued, “The landing barge was crammed full of men preparing in their own minds to fight the (Japanese) waiting to kill us first. We landed; I jumped into waist-deep water, holding my rifle above my head and kept going. (Japanese) were shooting and killing our men before they could reach the beach. I was a Provost Marshal, which meant I was in charge of getting everyone out of the landing vessel in an orderly manner by shouting orders and directions.
“Everyone fought in Mindanao, rank had no meaning or exclusion. I had a pistol, a machine gun, and a M1 rifle. I ate, slept, and lived with my guns at all times. We dug foxholes, our only protection. The (Japanese) fought dirty. When we entered the jungle in our jeeps, they would hide up in coconut trees and shoot our men. I got shot in the leg by one of those coconut tree (Japanese). We would spray the coconut trees with bullets. When the (Japanese’s) gun fell out, we knew we hit our target.
“When we finished with what we had to do in Mindanao, which was defeat the Japanese, we were loaded on a barge and taken back to a troop ship. I don’t know how long I was on that island as I did not have a calendar. I don’t like to talk about what happened, as what happened was left on the island along with many, many lives of American Soldiers who were to be buried or memorialized in Manila.
“Our next island was Manila. Fighting had pretty much stopped in Manila and the Americans had taken control. When the American soldiers were taking over Manila, many (Japanese) soldiers went into hiding up in the mountains. After the second ‘A’ bomb was dropped and the war was over, gun fire had ceased during the day. At night, though, you could hear a lot of shooting in the mountains. The (Japanese) in the mountain did not know the war was over. It was only when they ran out of food did they come down from the mountains. They replaced their riffles with a piece of cloth tied to a stick. That meant that they were surrendering to the American soldiers. They would rather surrender to the American soldiers, than the Philippine soldiers as the Philippines would kill them, cut off their heads and sell the (Japanese) head to the American soldiers for a $25 bounty.
“As a Provost Marshal, I was called into the office of a two-star general. When a two-star general calls you in, you listen! He stated an airplane would be arriving from Washington D.C. with strategic papers. My orders were to have my men stand guard of this aircraft immediately upon landing. I thought this plane must be carrying the Peace Treaty.
“When the plane landed, I posted a guard on either side just under the wing engines, one at the nose, one at the tail and two at the entrance/exit door ramp. I was asked why I put two guards at the entrance. I said just in case one gets shot. I have the original photo of the plane carrying the Peace Treaty. A buddy, who was on The Missouri where the Peace Treaty was signed, gave me an original photo of the Surrender Ceremony.
“After the war was over, I was assigned to Los Banos Prison. This is where I had my most famous prisoners, Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma (nicknamed The Poet General) and General Tomoyuki Yamashita (nicknamed The Beast of Bataan).”
War Crimes Trials and Execution
After the surrender of Japan, Homma and Yamashita were arrested by the American occupation authorities. They were extradited to the Philippines and placed in the Los Banos Prison in Manila. They were both charged with violating international rules of war relating to the atrocities committed by troops. Homma was sentenced to death by a firing squad and Yamashita was sentenced to death by hanging.
“I was one of many Provost Marshals that interviewed Homma and Yamashita. When I asked Homma why did Japan bomb Pearl Harbor? Homma said, ‘Japan wanted to get closer to the United States.’ We all knew what that meant! When I interviewed Yamashita I asked, ‘Why did y’all generals have that Bataan Death March?’ Yamashita said, ‘We did not want to feed the American Soldiers, we just wanted to get rid of them.’ It don’t get no dirtier than that!
“Homma was taken in front of the firing squad. There were 12 guns, 8 with bullets and 4 with blanks. The firing squad stood 15 steps away from Homma. The order was given; Homma was shot to death and pronounced dead by an Army doctor.
“I was in line to make the noose for Yamashita, but someone in front of me made it before I could do it. Yamashita was taken to the hanging platform and the noose placed around his neck. The trap door opened, Yamashita went down — death by hanging and pronounced dead by an Army doctor.
“I don’t know what they did with the bodies of the two (Japanese) generals responsible for killing so many of our men. I do know that I could look out at the American Manila Cemetery and see thousands of white head stones marking the final resting place for the bodies of our men killed in the Philippines. We fought hard and with honor and I will always remember those who did not make it home.”
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial
One-hundred-and-fifty-two acres contain 17,202 American and Allied burials of servicemen killed in the Philippines, New Guinea and Pacific Islands with a memorial honoring the 36,279 American servicemen listed as Missing in Action while serving in the Pacific Front during the war.
“After the war, I was shipped back to California. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge; what a wonderful sight. From California, I went to Houston where I got off the bus to go to my brother’s house. I saw the most beautiful girl I had ever seen going up the stairs to her apartment over the drugstore next to my brother’s house. I was in love. Her name was Sidonia Sliva from Lane City. I pursued and married her. We moved to Lane City and had one daughter Sandra. I loved my wife from the first time I saw her and even though she has passed away, I will love her the rest of my life.
“I am 94 years old and still serve my country as a proud member and Judge Advocate of the Wharton American Legion Post 87. I have had the honor to sound taps for many years at veteran’s funerals and now I present the flag to the families at funerals. I am proud to be an American Veteran and proud to have served my country as a United States Army Provost Marshal.”
Sarah’s note: I have been on many adventures with Mr. Tomczak at the many ceremonies we worked together throughout the years. Mr. Tomczak is well known throughout Wharton County. I am honored to call him my friend! We thank you, Mr. Tomczak, for your service, love and devotion you have for our country and for the many duties over the years you graciously gave to all veterans and their families. Happy 94th Birthday, my dear friend, and thank you for your service!