Boehm

 

Pvt. Robert Edward Boehm


    Pvt. Robert Edward Boehm was born on November 25, 1921, to Edward H. Boehm & Margaret Mary Tilton-Boehm, and was the couple's only child.  He was raised at 113 North Walnut Street in Janesville, Wisconsin, and attended local schools.

    On November 25, 1941, he was called to federal service with the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard which was now A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  Traveling to Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 18, 1940, he spent nearly a year training with his company.  It was during this training that he qualified as a tank driver and machine gunner and assigned to tank crew of Sgt. Herb Durner.

    In the late summer of 1941, Robert took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  On the side of a hill, he and the rest of the battalion learned that they were being sent overseas.  Those men who were 19 years old or older, were given the chance to resign from federal service.  They were replaced with men t=from the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The battalion also received the 753rd's M3A2 tanks.  After receiving a leave home, he returned to Camp Polk, Louisiana. 
    From there, the battalion traveled west by train to San Francisco.
   The battalion traveled by train to San Francisco, California.  From San Francisco, the tankers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases.  Some men were held back for health issues but scheduled to join the battalion at a later date.
    The 192nd was boarded onto the U.S. A. T. Hugh L. Scott and sailed on Monday, October 27th.  During this part of the trip, many tankers had seasickness, but once they recovered they spent much of the time training in breaking down machine guns, cleaning weapons, and doing KP.   The ship arrived at Honolulu, Hawaii, on Sunday, November 2nd and had a two day layover, so the soldiers were given shore leave so they could see the island. 
    On Wednesday, November 5th, the ship sailed for Guam but took a southerly route away from the main shipping lanes.  It was at this time it was joined by, the heavy cruiser, the U.S.S. Louisville and, another transport, the S. S. Calvin Coolidge.  Sunday night, November 9th, the soldiers went to bed and when they awoke the next morning, it was Tuesday, November 11th.  During the night, while they slept, the ships had crossed the International Date Line.  On Saturday, November 15th, smoke from an unknown ship was seen on the horizon.  The Louisville revved up its engines, its bow came out of the water, and it shot off in the direction of the smoke.  It turned out the smoke was from a ship that belonged to a friendly country.
    When they arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, the ships took on water, bananas, coconuts, and vegetables before sailing for Manila the next day.  At one point, the ships passed an island at night and 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, at 8:00 A.M., on Thursday, November 20th, and docked at Pier 7 later that morning.  At 3:00 P.M., most of the soldiers were taken by bus to Ft. Stotsenburg.  Those who drove trucks drove them to the fort, while the maintenance section remained behind at the pier to unload the tanks.    
    At the fort, they were greeted by Colonel Edward P.  King, who apologized because the men had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Field.  He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner.
    The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg.  The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent.  There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents. 

    For the next seventeen days, Bob and the other members of his tank crew, Herb Durner, Dale Lawton and Ken Squire worked to prepare their tank for maneuvers.  One of the biggest jobs they had was removing cosmoline from the guns of the tanks which had been greased to prevent them from rusting at sea.  They also prepared to take part in maneuvers with the 194th Tank Battalion. 
    On Monday, December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  The 194th Tank Battalion guarded the northern half of the airfield, while the 192nd guarded the southern half.  At all times, two members of every tank and half-track crew remained with their vehicles.  Meals were brought to them by food trucks.   
    The morning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Walter Write told his men about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and ordered all the tankers to the perimeter of Clark Field.  Most of the tankers believed that this was the start of the maneuvers.

    As they sat in their tanks, they watched as American planes flew overhead all morning.  Around noon, all the planes landed to be refueled and were lined up in a straight line outside the mess hall.  The pilots went to lunch while their planes were suppose to refueled.

    Around 12:45 in the afternoon, planes approached the airfield from the north.  Like the other men, Robert believed they were American until they felt and heard bombs exploding.  During the attack, Bob and the rest of his tank crew fired at the planes, but could do little damage since they did not have the proper weapons.
    When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield.  The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything else that could carry the wounded was in use.  When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building.  Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.  

    After the attack on December 12th, the company was sent to the Barrio of Dau so it would be close to a highway and railroad and prevent sabotage.   From there, the company was sent to join the other companies of the 192nd just south of the Agno River. 
    On December 23rd and 24th, the company was in the area of Urdaneta, where the tankers lost their company commander, Capt. Walter Write.  After he was buried, the tankers made an end run to get south of Agno River.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening but 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 were asked to hold the position for six hours; they held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.
    The 192nd and part of the 194th fell back to form a new defensive line the night of December 27th and 28th.  From there they fell back to the south bank of the BamBan River which they were suppose to hold for as long as possible.  The tanks were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th serving as a rear guard against the Japanese.
    A Company was sent, in support of the 194th, to an area east of Pampanga.  It was there that they lost a tank platoon commander, Lt. William Read.  On a road east of Zaragoza, on December 30th, the company was bivouacked for the night and posted sentries.  The sentries heard a noise on the road and woke the other tankers who grabbed Tommy-guns and manned the tanks' machine guns.  As they watched, a Japanese bicycle battalion rode into their bivouac.  When the last bicycle passed the tanks, the tankers opened up on them.  When they stopped firing, they had completely wiped out the bicycle battalion.  To leave the area, the tankers drove their tanks over the bodies.

   As the Filipino and American forces fell back toward Bataan, A Company took up a position near the south bank of the Gumain River the night of December 31st and January 1st.  Believing that the Filipino Army was in front of them allowed the tankers to get some sleep.  It was that night that the Japanese lunched an attack to cross the river.  Robert climbed out of his tank to see what was going on and had the steel helmet he was wearing shot off his head.  He got back into the tank.

    As the Japanese attempted to advance they were cut down by the tankers.  The tankers created gaping holes in their ranks.  To lower their losses, the Japanese tried to cover their advance with a smoke screen.  Since the wind was blowing against them, the smoke blew into the Japanese line.  When the Japanese broke off the attack, they had lost about half their men.
    At Guagua, A Company, with units from the 11th Division, Philippine Army, attempted to make a counterattack against the Japanese.  Somehow, the tanks were mistaken, by the Filipinos to be Japanese.  The 11th Division accurately used mortars on them.  The result was the loss of three tanks.  The company rejoined the 194th west of Guagua and was returned to the 192nd.
    The tanks often were the last units to disengage from the enemy and form a new defensive line as Americans and Filipino forces withdrew toward Bataan.  The night of January 7th, the A Company was awaiting orders to cross the last bridge into Bataan.  The engineers were ready to blow up the bridge, but the battalion's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord, ordered the engineers to wait until he had looked to see if they were anywhere in sight.  He found the company, asleep in their tanks, because they had not received the order to withdraw across the bridge.  After they had crossed, the bridge was destroyed.
    While American and Filipino forces were withdrawing from the Pilar-Bigac Line, the battalion prevented the Japanese from overrunning the position and cutting off the withdrawing troops.  The morning of January 27th, a new battle line had been formed and all units were suppose to be beyond it.  That morning, the tanks were still holding their position six hours after they were suppose to have withdrawn.  While holding the position, the tanks, with self-propelled mounts, ambushed, at point blank range, three Japanese units causing 50 percent casualties.
    On January 28th, the tank battalions 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. 
     A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese troops 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 the tank, which had been relieved, had left 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. The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  It was for their performance during this battle that the 192nd Tank Battalion would receive one of its Distinguished Unit Citations.
   The soldiers were hungry and began to eat everything they could get their hands on to eat.  The Carabao were tough but if they were cooked long enough they could be eaten.  They also began to eat horse meat provided by the 26th U. S. Cavalry.  To make things worse, the soldiers' rations were cut in half again on March 1, 1942.  This meant that they only ate two meals a day.   
    The Japanese also were dropping surrender leaflets with a scantly clad blond on them.  The Japanese would have been more successful at getting the Americans to surrender if the picture had been hamburger, since the men were so hungry that they most likely would have surrendered for a good meal.
    On March 2nd or 3rd, during the Battle of the Points.  The tanks had been sent in to wipe out two pockets of Japanese soldiers who had been landed behind the main defensive line.  The Japanese were soon cut off.  When the Japanese attempted to land reinforcements, they landed them at the wrong place creating another pocket.   Both of the pockets were wiped out.
   The company's last bivouac area was about twelve kilometers north of Marivales and looking out on the China Sea.  By this point, the tankers knew that there was no help on the way.  Many had listened to Secretary of War Harry L. Stimson on short wave.  When asked about the Philippines, he said, "There are times when men must die."  The soldiers cursed in response because they knew that the Philippines had already been lost.
    On April 4, 1942, the Japanese launched a attack supported by artillery and aircraft.  A large force of Japanese troops came over Mount Samat and descended down the south face of the volcano.  This attack wiped out two divisions of defenders and left a large area of the defensive line open to the Japanese.  When General King saw that the situation was hopeless, he initiated surrender talks with the Japanese.

   On April 9, 1942, Robert became a Prisoner of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese.  He and the other members of A Company made their way to Mariveles where they began the death march.

    The POWs, marched for days without food or water.  At San Fernando, they were packed into wooden boxcars used for hauling sugarcane.  The POWs were packed in so tightly, that men suffocated from lack of air and after dying remained standing.  At Capas, the prisoners disembarked and walked the last miles to Camp O'Donnell.  This former Filipino Army Camp was pressed into service by the Japanese without prior preparation.

    As a POW Robert was held at Camp O'Donnell and Cabanatuan.  Cabanatuan was opened to lower the death rate among the POWs.  After arriving in the camp. Robert was assigned to Barracks #7.  He also came down with dysentery and put into the camp hospital on July 16, 1942, and was discharged from the hospital on September 6th.  He was again hospitalized on Saturday, April 3, 1943, but no illness or date of discharge were given.
    It is known that Robert went out on a work detail, but what he did on the detail is not known.  Medical records from the Naval Hospital at Bilibid show that he was admitted to the hospital. When he was discharged, he was returned to what was referred to as "The Japanese Detail."
    Robert remained in the Philippines until December 1944, when he sailed for Japan, on December 27, 1944, on the Enoura Maru which also carried survivors of the Oryoku Maru sinking.  From this ship, he was joined on the Enoura Maru by Lt. LeRoy Scoville.  The ship reached Formosa safely. 

    While in harbor at Formosa on December 31, 1944, the Enoura Maru was attacked by American planes.  One of the bombs exploded in the hold Robert was being held in.  The bomb fatally wounded Leroy Scoville.  Scoville asked Robert to give his parents a aluminum wristlet he was wearing.  It was the only possession that he still had after the Oryoku Maru sank.  Scoville died from his wounds and was buried mass grave on the island.

    Robert arrived in Japan at Moji, on the Brazil Maru, and was held as a prisoner at Fukuoka #3-B, where he POWS in the camp worked in the Yawata Steel Mills.  With him in the camp, was Thomas Samek of A Company, who died from an intestinal infection.

    Robert and the other POWs shoveled iron ore and rebuilt the ovens in the mill.  The POWs were also sent into the ovens to clean out the debris when the ovens were hot because the Japanese would not let them cool off.  This meant that the POWs worked faster on this detail.  

    Robert remained in the camp until he was liberated by American troops in September 13, 1945.  After liberation, he was sent to Nagasaki for processing.  In somewhat of an ironic situation, Robert was interviewed by Thomas W. Ehrlinger who had been his roommate at the University of Wisconsin.  Ehrlinger's job was to process the former POWs.

    Robert returned to the United States on October 19, 1945, arriving on the S.S. Simon Bolivar at Seattle.  He later returned to Janesville after the war and met with LeRoy Scoville's family during which he gave them the wristlet.

    Robert transferred to the United States Air Force and remained in the military until July 31, 1962.  While he was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base at Dayton, Ohio, he married Helen Marie Fox on October 19, 1946.  In 1956, he and his family drove the Alcon Highway when he was stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, and his youngest daughter was born on the base. 

    During this time, Robert rose in rank to Sergeant Major and became the Personnel Officer.  After he retired, he moved to Eagle River, Alaska.  There, he and his wife raised their six children.  To support his family, he took tourists on hunting trips. 

    Robert Boehm died in a hang-gliding accident at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, Alaska, on September 11, 1977.  He was buried at Ft. Richardson National Cemetery, Ft. Richardson, Alaska.


 

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