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
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. 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.
The morning of December 8, 1941, Bob and the men learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The tankers were sent to the perimeter of Clark Field to prevent the use of paratroopers if the Philippines were attacked.
Around 12:45 in the afternoon, Bob lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Field. Not having the right ammunition, there was very little the tankers could do during the attack.
Bob spent the next four months fighting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands. It was during this fight that he became a tank platoon commander because of the death of the platoon's commanding officer.
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.