Sgt. Zenon Roland Bardowski

     Sgt. Zenon R. Bardowski was born in Gary, Indiana, on October 17, 1914, to Zenon N. Bardowski & Caroline Lena Kostur-Bardowski.  He grew up at 1601 Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana, and was a 1932 graduate of Froebel High School in Gary.   His family operated a grocery and meat market.  Zenon liked cars so much that hand two friends were arrested and charged with auto theft in May, 1935.  On April 27, 1937, his father passed away.

    Zenon joined the Illinois National Guard because he knew that sooner or later the United States would become involved in World War II.  The reason he ended up in the Illinois National Guard instead of the Indiana National Guard was that he was a race car driver and an automobile mechanic.  His interest in automobiles, resulted in his wanting to get into tanks on the ground level.  Since the closest tank company to Gary was located in Maywood, Illinois, he joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company.

    In November of 1940, the 33rd Tank Company was federalized and sent to train at Fort Knox, Kentucky as Company B, 192nd Tank Battalion.  During this training, Zenon qualified as a driver of tracked vehicles.  He next took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941.    

    After the maneuvers, the members of the company were informed that they had been selected for duty overseas and that this duty could last from six months up to six years.  The battalion was next sent to Camp Polk in Louisiana, where the older men and married men were released from federal service and replaced with men from other battalions.  It was there that the battalion received new tanks that they had never been trained to use.
    The battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.  Arriving there, they were taken by ferry to Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.  At Ft. McDowell, they were given physicals and inoculated.   Those men found to have a minor medical condition were held back and scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S.S. Hugh L. Scott and sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd.  The soldiers were given leaves so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.
At one point, the ships passed an island at night.  While they passed the island, they did so in total blackout.  This for many of the soldiers was a sign that they were being sent into harm's way.  When they arrived at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables.  The ships sailed the same day for Manila and entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th.  They docked at Pier 7 and the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg. 
  At the fort, they were greeted by Gen. Edward King.  The general apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield.  He made sure that they all received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own.  Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
For the next seventeen days the tankers worked to remove cosmoline from their weapons.  The grease was put on the weapons to protect them from rust while at sea.  They also loaded ammunition belts and did tank maintenance.
    On December 1st, the tank battalions were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two tank crew members remained with their tanks at all times.  They remained around the airfield for the next week. 

    The morning of December 8th, ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field.  It was during this attack that Zenon is credited with being the first member of an American tank crew to shoot down an enemy plane during World War II.

    According to other members of the battalion, Zenon's half-track was at the end of the runway.  A Japanese plane flew straight at it firing as it approached.  Dirt flew in two tracks from the bullets.  Bardowski stayed at his gun firing at the plane as it approached until he hit it.  The plane fell from the sky with a smoke trail following it.

    After the attack, the battalion members found the plane.  The pilot was missing both his arms and legs.  None of them had any feelings for the pilot.  When a chaplain tried to get them to bury the pilot, one man urinated on him to show his contempt.  The others simply walked away.

    As the battle for the Philippine Islands continued, Zenon was first assigned as a half-track driver for Tec. 4 Frank Goldstein.  It was their job to be in constant communication with every tank of the 192nd.  If a tank did not respond, Zenon had to drive Goldstein to find the tank and see what the problem was.

    As the battle against the Japanese continued, Zenon rose in rank from private to sergeant and was asked by 2nd Lt. Ed Winger to organize a tank platoon.  Zenon was now a tank commander with a crew of Pvt. Carl E. Garr as his tank driver and Pvt. Wallace Marston as his gunner.

    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tankplatoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    As the tank battalions fought the Japanese, they often found themselves to be the last troops to with draw from an area.  At the Agno River, the 192nd held the south bank of the river so other troops could cross.  The tanks of the were so far apart that in some cases they could only communicate with each other by using their radios.

    Sgt. Jim Bashleben credited Bardowski with saving his life and the life of his half-track driver, Pvt. William Oldaker.  According to Bashleben, the tanks were ahead of his half-track and had crossed a river and climbed up the river's south bank.  Bashleben's half-track got stuck and could not get up the bank.

    The tanks continued to head south when Bardowski noticed the half-track was missing.  He turned his tank around and found it stuck in the river.  Bardowski threw cables down Bashleben and Oldaker and pulled the half-tack onto the bank saving the crew and half-track.

    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6th/7th, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.

    Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare.  The tank battalions , on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.

    B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole. Driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.

    During the Battle of the Pockets, Zenon came to the aid of the tank crew of Lt. Ed Winger.   Zenon's best friend, Cpl. John Massimino, was in the driver of the tank and shouted at Zenon, over the radio, that they needed his help.  The tankers had knocked out a number of Japanese positions including destroying the flamethrower.  

    As Lt. Winger's tank approached another Japanese position, it was fired upon by Japanese flamethrowers.  The crew was blinded and their tank ended up wedged between two trees.  The tank was abandoned by it's crew.  

    Zenon had his tank pull up behind the trapped tank. He dismounted his tank and dragged the towing cables from the bow of his tank to the rear of Lt. Winger's tank.  The Japanese managed to shoot the cable away from the hook, so Zenon had to run around to the rear of his tank and set the cable to make the rescue.  

    Zenon efforts saved Winger's crew.  In the process of rescuing the tank crew, Zenon's tank had destroyed a .57 mm Japanese gun and a flamethrower.  Zenon, himself, would be wounded before Bataan was surrendered.

    On April 8th, after receiving word that the forces on Bataan would be surrendered the next day, Zenon led his tanks to the coast of Bataan in an attempt to escape to Corregidor.  When he was told that there was no room for him or his men on the barge, Zenon repositioned his Tommy-gun to make it understood that he intended to make the trip.  After abandoning his tanks, Zenon and his men made the trip to Corregidor.

    On Corregidor, Zenon was assigned to the D Company of the 4th Marines.  He recalled being bombed and shelled daily and was wounded while eating a meal.  When the final assault on the island took place, Zenon was bayoneted, in his thigh, when the Japanese overran his position.   He would later receive the Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts.

    Probably the strangest experience during the attack was Zenon was having to fire on his own tank which was now being used by the Japanese.  His former tank was the first tank to land on Corregidor.  Not disabling the tank was a regret that Zenon had his entire life. 

    On May 10, 1942,  Zenon became a Prisoner of War.  As a POW, Zenon was first held at Cabanatuan #1.  Zenon left the camp to go out on a work detail.  The POWs built runways and built bridges.  When the detail ended, he was next sent to Cabanatuan #3.  There he was reunited with other members of Company B.  As a POW, Zenon worked as a woodcutter and a cook.  At some point, Zenon was put into the camp hospital because he was suffering from malaria and dysentery.  He was discharged from the hospital on February 1, 1943.  Other records kept by the hospital staff indicate Zenon was readmitted on March 22, 1943, but no illness or date of discharge were given.

    During his time as a POW, Zenon was punished for violating a camp rule.  He was made to stand in the sun until he passed out.  He was then kicked in his ribs and stomach and hit with rifle butts. 

    He was next sent to Bilibid Prison where he was reunited with Tec 4 Frank Goldstein and Sgt. James Griffin.  It was there that Frank Goldstein would save Zenon's life by giving him vitamin pills.  Sometime in July, Zenon's name appeared on a list of POWs being sent to Japan.

    On July 17th at 8:00 A.M. the POWs walked to Pier 7.  They were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru.  The Japanese attempted to put the entire POW detachment in the forward hold but failed, so 600 of the POWs were put into the read hold.  The ship remained outside the breakwater from July 18th until July 23rd while the Japanese attempted to form a convoy.  The POWs were fed rice and vegetables, which were cooked together, were fed to the prisoners.  They also received two canteen cups of water. 
    The ship sailed on July 23rd at 8:00 A.M. to Corregidor and dropped anchor off the island at 2:00 P.M.  It remained off the island overnight and sailed at 8:00 A.M. the next day.  The ship sailed north by northeast as part of a convoy.  On July 26th at 3:00 in the morning, there was a large fire off the ship.  It turned out that the one of the ships, the Otari Yama Maru had been hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher which was a part of a three submarine wolf pack.  On July 28th, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, and docked at 9:00 A.M.   The ship sailed at 7:00 P.M. and continued its northward trip all day and night of July 29th.  On July 30th, the ship ran into a storm.  The storm finally passed by August 2nd.  The POWs were issued clothing on August 3rd and arrived at Moji on August 4th at midnight. 
    At 8:00 in the morning, the POWs disembarked the ship. They were taken to a theater and were held in it all day.  They were than taken to the train station.  The train left at 9:00 P.M. and arrived at the camp at 2:00 A.M., they were unloaded and walked the three miles to the camp.

    In Japan, he was sent to Fukuoka #23, outside of Moji, which was located outside of Hiroshima.  The camp consisted of a mess hall, a hospital, six unheated barracks located on top of a hill with a ten foot high wooden fence around it. In the barracks, the POWs slept in 15 X 15 foot bays.  Six POWs shared a bay.  At 6:00 A.M., 6:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M. the Japanese took row call.  For the first two weeks in the camp, the POWs learned the Japanese words for mining equipment. 
    The POWs received their jobs from the camp commandant who spoke adequate English. 
There, he again worked as a cook, but he also sent into the coal mine to mine coal.  One day while he was outside,  he heard a roar and felt a shock wave.  Unknown to him, the atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki and he was experiencing the shockwave. 
    In 1945, things got worse in the camp because the Japanese were losing the war. 
On August 15th they learned the war was over.  The POWs did not believe it.  The next day the camp commandant, at 9:00 A.M., informed the POWs that the war was over.  He also told them that they had to stay in the camp.  On August 24th, the Japanese gave the POWs paint and canvas and told them to paint "POW." on the canvas and put it on the barracks roofs.
   On August 28th, B-29s appeared over the camp. Two of the planes circled and dropped fifty gallon drums to the POWs.  For the first time, the POWs knew they were now in charge.  Zenon decided that he was going to find the Americans on his own.  He left the camp and made his way to Nagasaki and made his way through the rubble of the city. 
Outside of the city, he met up with the 1st U. S. Cavalry on September 25, 1945.

   Zenon returned to the United States on the U.S.S. General R. L. Howze arriving at San Francisco on October 16, 1945.  He returned home and was discharged, from the army, on April 12, 1946.  He married, Raye Bandanish, and raised a family.  In 1946, a few months after being discharged, he attempted but failed to qualify to race in the Indianapolis 500.  The photo at the top of the page was taken during the qualifying runs.

    Bud would own a series of used car dealerships, race opened wheel cars, and become an oil distributor.  He also served as a director of the Civil Defense and on the county board.  In July 1977, he moved from Gary to Benton, Texas, where he worked for the Veterans Administration.

    Zenon Bardowski passed away on April 19, 2000, in Benton, Texas.  His ashes were interred at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.


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