Bensing

 

Cpl. Elmer John Bensing Jr.


    Cpl. Elmer J. Bensing Jr., was the son of Elmer J. Bensing Sr & Lenore Wilson-Bensing, and was born on December 12, 1918, in Louisville, Kentucky.  With his three younger brothers and two younger sisters, he resided at 1452 South Hemlock Street.  He was a high school graduate and  worked in payroll at an auto body shop before he was inducted in the Army. 

    On January 22, 1941, Elmer was inducted into the army at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  He did his basic training there and qualified as a radioman.  He was assigned to D Company, 192nd Tank Battalion during his basic training. 

    In September of 1941, Elmer took part in the Louisiana maneuvers.  After the maneuvers ended, Elmer and the rest of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.  He returned home to say his goodbyes and married Thelma A. Weidner on October 5, 1941.

    Over different train routes, the 192nd traveled to San Francisco, California and were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  After receiving physicals and inoculations, they were boarded onto the U.S.A.T. Hugh L. Scott  The ship sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th, for Hawaii, as part of a three ship convoy.  The ships arrived at Honolulu on Sunday, November 2nd,   and the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island.  On Tuesday, November 4th, the ships sailed for Guam.  During this part of the voyage, smoke from an unknown ship, was seen on the horizon.  The cruiser that was escorting the two transports revved its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it took off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out that the unknown ship was from a friendly country.
    
Arriving at Guam, the ships took on water, bananas, vegetables, and coconuts before sailing for Manila.  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.  The ships entered Manila Bay on Thursday, November 20th, at 8:00 A.M., and docked at Pier 7 later in the day.  At 3:00 P.M., the soldiers disembarked and were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.  The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind and unloaded the battalion's tanks.       
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward King, who apologized that the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they received what they needed and that they had Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. 
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.  It was at this time that Elmer was transferred to the Provisional Tank Group as a radio operator.  He was most likely assigned to a half-track.
    On Monday, December 1st, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard it against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion was assigned the northern half of the airfield while the 192nd protected the southern half.  At all times, two crew members had two remain with their tank or half track and received their meals from food trucks.

    On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark Field.  The tankers fought back the best that they could, but their weapons weren't of much use against planes.

    During the Battle of the Philippines, Elmer fought to slow the Japanese advance as long as possible.  Since no help was coming, it was just a matter of time before the battle would be lost.

    The Japanese liked to use snipers.  The snipers would climb high into the tree.  They then would tie themselves onto a large branch of the tree with a vine.  On one occasion, being in an area where several soldiers had been shot, Elmer took his sub-machine gun and began shooting at a vine running up a tree.  He followed the vine up the tree until he cut it with his fire.  The Japanese sniper fell from the tree.

    On April 9, 1942, the members of the tank group were informed of the surrender to the Japanese.  On April 10th, the Japanese arrived and ordered the HQ personnel onto the road.  When the POWs were ordered to move, they found walking on the gravel trail difficult.  When the trial ended, the POWs and the POWs were on the main road, the first thing the Japanese did was separate the officers from the enlisted men.
   The Prisoners of War were then left in the sun for the rest of the day.  That night they were ordered north.  The march was difficult in the dark since they could not see where they were walking.  Whenever they slipped, they knew they had stepped on the remains of a dead soldier. The POWs made their way north, against the flow of Japanese troops, who were moving south.  At Limay on April 11th, they were put into a schoolyard until ordered to move.
    They made their way north to Balanga and arrived in Orani on April 12th, where they were reunited with the officers of the tank group.  At 6:30 that evening, the POWs resumed the march and were marched at a faster pace.  The guards also seemed to be nervous about something.  This time they made the POWs make their way to Hormosa.  There, the road went from gravel to concrete.  This change of surface made the march easier.  When the POWs were allowed to sit down, those who attempted to lay down were jabbed with bayonets.
    The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great.  At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando, where they were once again put into a pen.  At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the POWs, formed detachments of 100 men, and marched them to the train station.
    The POWs continued the march and for the first time in months it began to rain which felt great.  At 4:30 PM on April 13th, they arrived at San Fernando, where they were once again put into a pen which was already occupied by Filipino soldiers.  The POWs were put into groups of 200 men to be fed.  A couple of the POWs would get the food which was distributed to each member of the group.  Water was given out in a similar fashion.  That night not all the POWs could lie down to sleep.  At 4:00 A.M., the Japanese woke the POWs, formed detachments of 100 men, and marched them to the train station.
    At the train station, the POWs were crammed into small wooden boxcars known as "Forty or Eights," since each car could hold forty men or eight horses.  The Japanese forced 100 men into each boxcar and closed the doors. Those who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall to the floors.  At Capas, the living left the cars and the dead fell to the floors.  From there, he walked the last ten miles to Camp O' Donnell.

    As a POW, Elmer was held at Camp O'Donnell which was an unfinished Filipino Army training base that the Japanese put into use as a POW camp.  There was only one water faucet for the entire camp.  Men stood in line for days to get a drink of water.  Disease in the camp ran wild because they had no medicine to treat the sick.  The death rate among the POWs rose to as many as 50 men a day.
    Elmer was sent to Cabanatuan #1 when it opened.  He was assigned to Barracks 12 in the camp.  While he was a prisoner, he contracted malaria, berberi and dysentery. According to medical records kept at the camp. he was admitted to the camp hospital on January 14, 1943.  He remained in the camp until July 1943. At that time he was sent to Manila and boarded onto the Clyde Maru. The ship sailed on July 23, 1943.

    The POWs were taken to the Port Area of Manila for shipment to Japan.  He and the other POWs were put into the holds of the Clyde Maru and spent 12 days in the holds on the trip to Japan.  The only washroom were buckets that were lowered down by ropes.  During the trip, many of the prisoners died.  The bodies were pulled from the hold on ropes and thrown overboard.

    In Japan, the ship docked at Moji.  From there, Elmer was taken to Fukuoka Camp #3-B.  There he worked in a Yawata Steel Mills which were 75 miles from Nagasaki.  The POWs did manual labor.  They shoveled coal and cleaned the blast furnaces.  Being that the Japanese placed little value on the lives of the prisoners, they were expected to clean the furnaces while they still hot.

    When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the prisoners were returned to the camp early.  They did not return to work for days.  When they did go back to the mills, they again came back to the camp early.

    As they returned, they saw Japanese facing speakers and listening.  An American who could speak Japanese told them that the war was over.  When a Japanese officer repeated this, the prisoners knew that it was true.

    On September 20, 1945, the former POWs were rescued by American troops.  Elmer was returned to the Philippines.  He was boarded onto the U.S.S. Marine Shark arriving at San Francisco on November 1, 1945.  His journey back to the U. S. had ended where it began a little over four years earlier.  Elmer was awarded a number of medals.  Among them were the purple heart and bronze star.

    Elmer was discharged on February 26, 1946.  He returned to Thelma and the couple raised a son and daughter.  To support his family, he worked as a payroll clerk at K.A. Barker Construction Company. 

    Elmer J. Bensing passed away on December 23, 1998, in Louisville, Kentucky.  After a memorial service at Chapel Hill United Church of Christ, he was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Louisville.


 

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