Sgt. Zenon R. 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. He operated a grocery and meat
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Zenon returned to the United States 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 qualified to race in the Indianapolis 500.
Bud would own a series of used car dealerships, race opened wheel cars, and become an oil distributor. After he retired, he moved to Texas and worked for the Veterans Administration.
Zenon Bardowski would later move to Belton, Texas where he passed away on April 19, 2000.