Ohio World War II veteran finally comes home

PORT CLINTON - A shared experience during World War II brought Manny Madrazo to Bataan Elementary School Monday.

The experience belonged to Madrazo's father and John Kovach, a Gypsum, Ohio, resident who served in the Company C 192nd Tank Battalion from Port Clinton.

"My father was in the same prisoner-of-war camp as he was," Madrazo, an Oregon resident born in the Philippines, said as he and family members filed out of Kovach's memorial service at Bataan Memorial Elementary School.

Kovach finally came home this weekend, almost 75 years after he died in the Philippines during World War II.

He was buried Monday with full military honors at Riverview Cemetery.

His sisters, Ethel Smith and Mary Ocheske, shed tears, smiled and briefly held hands at Kovach's gravesite, as they said their goodbyes to an older brother taken from them at a young age.

Kovach was one of 32 men in the Company C 192nd Tank Battalion from Port Clinton who fought in the Battle of Bataan in the Philippines.

Along with members of his battalion and thousands of other soldiers, Kovach was taken prisoner of war after the United States surrendered the Bataan Peninsula to the Japanese on the island of Luzon on April 9, 1942.

After the surrender, Kovach and his comrades were among the 75,000 Filipino and American soldiers who were forced to march 65 miles to a Japanese prison camp. The trek became known as the Bataan Death March, with thousands dying en route.

Kovach died from dysentery in November 1942 in a Japanese prison camp. He was 20 years old.

Inside the Bataan school gymnasium, family and community members filed past Kovach's casket and looked at grainy black-and-white pictures of a young man who enlisted in the Ohio National Guard at 17.

"It's an honor for us to be able to participate in this," said Port Clinton City Schools Superintendent Pat Adkins, noting that the district's teachers talked a lot with students about the historical significance of the Bataan Death March.

A group photo of the Company C 192nd Tank Battalion showed Kovach in the fourth row, second from the left, with an asterisk by his name that noted he died in a prison camp.

According to prison records, Kovach was buried along with 13 fellow prisoners in a camp cemetery in Cabanatuan, Grave 717, on the Bataan Peninsula. 

Following the war, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) personnel exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and relocated the remains to a temporary U.S. military cemetery near Manila.

In 2014, the Secretary of the Army granted permission to exhume 10 graves associated with the Cabanatuan Common Grave 717.  On August 28, 2014, the remains were sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) laboratory for identification. 
   
To identify Kovach’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis, which matched two sisters, as well as circumstantial evidence, dental comparisons, and anthropological analysis that matched his records.

In 2014, the Secretary of the Army granted permission to exhume 10 graves associated with the Cabanatuan Common Grave 717.  On August 28, 2014, the remains were sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) laboratory for identification. 
   
To identify Kovach’s remains, scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial (mtDNA) DNA analysis, which matched two sisters, as well as circumstantial evidence, dental comparisons, and anthropological analysis that matched his records.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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