Bronge

 


Sgt. Robert Eugene Bronge
    Sgt. Robert E. Bronge was born on June 14, 1917, to James V. Bronge & Julia Nelson-Bronge.  With his two brothers and his sister, he grew up in Maywood and Melrose Park, Illinois.  As a child he attended Mount Carmel Catholic School and graduated in 1933.  He then went to Proviso Township High School and graduated in 1937.  At some point, his parents divorced.
     In 1940, he was living at 910 North 14th Avenue and caring for his younger brother.  At the same time he worked for a pencil manufacturing company as a buffer. 
    In 1937, like many other men from the Maywood-Melrose Park area, Bob joined the Illinois National Guard's 33rd Tank Company.  One reason for his joining was the tank company was headquartered in an armory across the street from his high school.  Another reason for his joining the tank company was that many of the members of the company were friends of his.  One of the other members of the company was his cousin, Daniel Boni.
    On November 25, 1940, Bob's tank company was federalized as B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  His address when inducted was 1921 South 19th Avenue, Maywood, Illinois.  For the next year, he trained with the company at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  It was during this time that he was promoted to sergeant and made a tank commander.
    In the late summer of 1941, the 192nd took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  It was at that time that Bob and the other members of the battalion were informed that they were not being released from federal service as expected.  Instead, they were old that their time in federal service had been extended, and that they were being sent overseas.
   
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, who apologized that they 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 tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times.  The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.

   
    At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Elkoney lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  He and the other tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  They then saw what looked like rain drops falling from the planes.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  The company remained at Clark Field for the next two weeks.

    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.

    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.  The 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.

    On April 9, 1942, Bob received the news of the surrender.  He and his tank platoon, lined their tanks up, and fired armor piecing shells into the engines.  They then opened the gasoline valves and dropped hand grenades into the tanks.  After this was done, his platoon made its way to Mariveles.
    It was from Mariveles that Bob started what became known as the death march.  Bob went days without food or water.  In San Fernando, he slept on a concrete floor of a building.  Since other prisoners with dysentery had used this building before, the floor was covered with human waste.
    Bob and the other Prisoners of War were packed into steel boxcars that were used to haul sugarcane.  The cars were about thirteen feet long and ten feet wide.  The Japanese put 100 men in each car.  Since the POWs were packed in so tightly, men suffocated from the lack of air.
    At Capas, Bob made his way to Camp O'Donnell.  The conditions in the camp were so bad that as many as fifty POWs died each day.
    When the new camp was opened at Cabanatuan, Bob was sent there.  It was while a POW there that Bob came down with dysentery and admitted to the camp hospital.  He was assigned to Barracks 1 in the hospital area of the camp.
    According to the final report on the 192nd Tank Battalion written by 1st Lt. Jacques Merrifield, Sgt. Robert E. Bronge died from dysentery and malaria on Saturday, July 31, 1942.  His approximate time of death was 3:30 P.M.  His death was listed as death number 1301.  Bob's family did not learn of his death until June 1945.
    After he died, Bob was buried in a mass grave outside the camp.  The grave was designated Grave 211.  About March 26, 1946, the grave was disinterred and the remains of six of the POWs were identified.  The remains of X-2785 were identified as most likely being those of Sgt. Robert Bronge.  A dog tag with his name on it was found with the remains, but for whatever  reason, the recovery team decided that they did not have enough proof to positively identify the remains as Robert Bronge.
    Sgt. Robert E. Bronge was buried, as were the remains of fourteen other POWs who died at Cabanatuan, at the new American Military Cemetery outside Manila.  Each man was buried in an individual grave.  Bob was buried, as an unknown, in Plot 3, Row 19, Grave 2435.
    Since the remains of Sgt. Robert E. Bronge could not be positively identified,  his name appears on The Tablets of the Missing at the American Military Cemetery outside of Manila.   His family had a memorial headstone placed at Fairview Memorial Park in Northlake, Illinois.


 

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