Bruni

 

Capt. Fred Tobias Bruni Jr.


    Capt. Fred T. Bruni Jr. was born on January 21, 1905, in Monroe, Wisconsin, to Fred T. Bruni Sr. & Elizabeth Wild-Bruni.  He was one of the couples' five children from his mother's second marriage.  He also had three half-sisters and three half brothers.  He attended grade school and high school in Monroe.  On June 28, 1921, Fred joined the Wisconsin National Guard in Monroe.  He rose in rank from private to sergeant.  It at this time that he moved to Janesville. 
    While living in Janesville, he married.  With his wife, Hazel, he resided at 1242 South Washington Street.  The couple had a infant son, Ronald, who died at the age of two months.  He also remained in the National Guard and on June 14, 1938, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in his Janesville unit.  He was known as "Fritz" to the other members of his unit.  He was known to have a joke or story to tell.
    Fred was employed at the General Motors Automobile Plant in Janesville as an assembler. On October 30, 1940, he was promoted to first lieutenant when his tank company was federalized.  Fred was now a member of the 192nd GHQ Light Tank Battalion which was formed from National Guard units from Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky.  He became the battalion's maintenance officer.
    For the next year, the battalion trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  In early 1941, Fred was transferred to B Company and then to Headquarters Company when it was formed.  He would later become the company's commanding officer of HQ Company when Capt. Havelock Nelson was made the battalion's executive officer.

    In the late summer of 1941, the battalion took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands.  It was at this time that Fred became the commanding officer of
    Being over 29, Fred was given the opportunity to resign from federal service.  He chose to remain with the 192nd.  With the release of officers who were considered too old for their rank, Fred was promoted to captain on November 3, 1941, and given command of HQ Company.  He received a ten day pass home to take care of personal business and say his goodbyes. 
    On October 20th from Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on October 29th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day. About 8:00 in the morning on November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King welcomed them and made sure that they had what they needed.  He also was apologetic that there were no barracks for the tankers and that they had to love in tents.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    The morning of December 8th, the officers of the battalions met and were informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor hours earlier.  The 192nd letter companies were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield. 
    All morning long, the sky was filled with American planes.  At noon, all the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45 planes approached the airfield from the north.  The tankers on duty at the airfield counted 54 planes.  When bombs began exploding, the men knew the planes were Japanese.  After the attack the 192nd remained at Ft. Stotsenburg for almost two weeks.  They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.


    Five days later on December 13, 1941, Fred and Lt. Emmett Gibson, who had been an Illinois National Guardsman, were walking together and talking.  Gibson had had a premonition of his own death.  What really bothered him was that it was his daughter's birthday.  Bruni tried to get Gibson's mind off the idea by talking about the north woods of Wisconsin and fishing there.  Suddenly the two men were strafed.  Seven Japanese fighters had appeared over the airfield.  Gibson jumped into a halftrack that was hidden under a tree and grabbed its machine gun.  Fred told Gibson to stay where he was and that he would direct Gibson's fire.

    That afternoon, a second attack took place.  This time there were seven Japanese bombers.  Gibson climbed onto a halftrack and grabbed its .50 caliber machinegun.  Fred called out to Gibson, "Stay there, and I'll direct your fire."  Fred walked out into the open with bombs exploding around him.  He proceeded to direct Gibson's fire at the Japanese bombers as bombs exploded around him.  Gibson opened fire where Fred told him to do so.  Together, they were credited with shooting down one of the bombers.

For the next four months, Fred lived through constant strafing and bombings during the retreat into the Bataan Peninsula.  On one occasion, the bombing was so severe that he jumped into the nearest two man foxhole and made it a three man foxhole.

    On April 8, 1942, it was Fred's job to inform the sergeants of A Company of the plans to surrender.  While informing the members of the company of the surrender,  he waved his arm toward the tanks and told the men that they would no longer need them.  As he spoke, his voice choked.  He turned away from the men for a moment, and when he turned back he continued.  He next told the sergeants what they should do to disable the tanks.  During the announcement he emphasized that they all were to surrender together.

    The next day, April 9, 1942, Capt. Fred Bruni informed the members of HQ Company of the surrender.  With the other men, he remained in the camp for two days before they were ordered to move out to the road that passed their encampment.  As they stood alongside the road, Japanese soldiers took whatever they wanted from Fred's and the other men's possessions.  

    HQ Company boarded trucks and drove to Mariveles.  From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited.  As they sat, Fred and the other Prisoners of War noticed a line of Japanese soldiers forming across from them.  They soon realized that this was a firing squad and the Japanese were going to kill them.

    As they sat watching the Japanese soldiers, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car and stopped.  He got out and spoke to the Japanese sergeant in charge of the detail.  The officer got back in the car and drove off.  The Japanese sergeant ordered his soldiers to lower their guns. 

    Later in the day, Fred's company was moved to a school yard in Mariveles.  In the school yard, they found themselves between Japanese artillery and the guns firing from Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  Shells began landing among the POWs who had no place to hide.  Some of the POWs were killed by the incoming shells.

     The POWs were ordered to move by the Japanese.  Fred and the other men had no idea that they had started what became known as the death march.  During the march he received no water and little food.  He and his men marched 65 miles to San Fernando. There, they were boarded onto boxcars.  Each car was filled with 100 men.  Those men who died remained standing since there was no room for them to fall.

    At Capas, Fred disembarked the boxcar and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.  He remained there until going out on a work detail.  After completion of the detail, he was sent to Cabanatuan #3.

    During his time as a POW, Fred kept a notebook on the other members of his original tank company from Janesville.  In the book, he wrote down where the members of A Company were being held as prisoners.  If a man died, he wrote down the date, location and cause.  Much of what he wrote was based on what other POWs told him.

    When he realized that he was going to be transferred to another part of the Philippine Islands, Fred sent the following letter to Lt. Henry Knox.  The letter was smuggled into Cabanatuan #1.  How this was done is not known.

 

Dear Knox,

 How are you and the boys? I hope that you are making contact with the boys of the company and the Janesville boys in Headquarters Company.  I would you to make a list of the dead ones and get the cause of death and date of their death so that we can have something to go by when the day comes.  I hope the dying siege is over with.  Things are in good shape here, and I wish they were all up to this camp.  I mean the whole battalion.

 I would like to visit a few days down at your camp so that I could say hello to all the officers and men that you can see.  And tell them to keep clean and healthy for the day is coming and I want to see them alive.  So take good care of yourself and tell the rest goodbye.  And do what I told you.

 

                                                                                                                  Capt. Bruni

 

    Fred was sent to Camp #10 in the Philippines.  This designation was given to one of two POW camps.  The first was at Lipa, Batangas and the second at Batangas, Batangas.  The POWs at the first camp built runways, while the POWs at the second camp worked on a farm growing food for the Japanese.  It was while he was a POW in the camp that his wife, Hazel, heard from him for the last time.  She received a POW postcard dated August 26, 1942.

    On August 2, 1942,  Bruni was transferred to Puerto Princess on Palawan Island.  The POWs were sent to Palawan to build an airfield.  The POW camp was designated 10-A.  Food for the POWs was wormy rice and a cup of soup.   Those who were sick had their rations cut.

    Six POWs were caught stealing food in December 1942.  The men were tied to trees and beaten by the Japanese guards with wire and clubs.  After they were untied, they had to stand at attention and be beaten until they passed out.

    Bruni was the ranking American officer and in charge of the detail.  In this role, he often found himself giving orders that created resentment among the enlisted men.  Many failed to see that Fred had little choice in the matter; either he gave the order or he or the men would be punished.

    Fred frequently was involved in situations where no matter what he did, he would anger either the enlisted men or the officers.  Things really came to a head during Christmas of 1943

    In late 1943, the Japanese promised the POWs a large Christmas dinner.  There was already a great deal of resentment toward the officers since they did not have to work while the enlisted men did.  When Christmas arrived, the "large dinner" turned out to be a total of six chickens.  Fred found himself having to make a choice between giving all the chickens to the enlisted men or giving five chickens to the enlisted men and one chicken to the officers. He chose to give one chicken to officers.  This left over 100 enlisted men to share five chickens.  Many of the men carried hard feelings toward Fred because of this decision.  This transfer took place in September 1944.

    An American B-24 bombed Palawan on October 19, 1944.  During the attack,  planes at the airfield were damaged and two ships were sunk.  Nine days later, American planes returned and bombed the airfield destroying 60 planes.  The POWs had to hide their joy and silently cheered the air raid.

    It was at this time that the POWs were forced to build air raid shelters 150 feet long by 4 feet wide.  The entrances, at each end, were large enough for one man to enter or leave at a time.  They were covered with dirt and logs. 

    On December 14th, an American convoy was spotted by Japanese planes.  The Japanese believed that Palawan would soon be invaded by the advancing American forces.  The fact was the convoy was heading to Mindoro Island an island just south of Luzon. 

    The POWs were ordered into the shelters after American planes were spotted.  After a while, the POWs came out of the shelters but remained near them.  At 2:00 PM, the POWs were ordered back into the shelters.  The order was given that all Prisoners of War should be executed.  Gasoline was poured on the shelters and thrown into both ends. The Japanese lit the shelters.

    After the war, Fred's family learned that he had been executed.  This information was provided by another soldier from Janesville who liberated the island.  The soldier told Fred's family that the POWs the events of his death.  He told them how, as the POWs rushed from the shelters, the Japanese bayoneted and machine-gunned them.  After this, dynamite was thrown into the trenches to assure that the POWs were dead.

    In Bruni's case, he and three other officers, Lt. Cmdr. Henry Knight, Lt. Carl Mango, and Warrant Offcer Glen Turner had their own trench.  Once in it, the Japanese poured gasoline on it and set the trench on fire.  Mango made it out of the trench, with his clothes on fire, pleading with the Japanese to show mercy to the prisoners.  He was shot and his body set on fire.

    Forty or fifty men still managed to get out of the trenches.  Those POWs who managed to escape jumped from a fifty foot cliff to the beach.  Shore sentries and guards on barges shot at them from the cliffs and boats.  Those who were recaptured by the Japanese were buried alive while those who survived the massacre swam to their freedom.

    One POW who was recaptured had attempted to swim to freedom.  The Japanese stuck him with bayonets and poured gasoline on his feet and set him on fire.  The entire time they mocked him and continued to bayonet him.  They finally poured gasoline over his entire body and watched the flames devour him.

    Of the POWs who had managed to escape, only ten survived what became known as the Palawan Massacre.  Capt. Fred T. Bruni was not one of these men.   Early in 1945, his wife received several POW cards from her husband.  She hoped that this was a sign that he would be home soon.  She had no idea that he had already been murdered.  His murder was confirmed when his wife received the small notebook he had kept as a diary while a POW.  The book had a mark on it that indicated it had come from the Island of Palawan.

    Capt. Fred T. Bruni was burnt to death with 122 other POWs on Palawan Island by the Japanese on Thursday, December 14, 1944.  He and the other POWs were murdered because the Japanese did not want them to be liberated by advancing American troops.   When American troops did land on Palawan, they found the mass grave for the POWs.  It was also then that they found a diary he had kept while a POW.  In it, he recorded the deaths of the other members of A Company.
    The communique to Mrs. Hazel Bruni told her of her husband's death in the POW execution. In part it said, "on December 14, 1944, this  group of prisoners was attacked without warning by the Japanese guards, and ten of the prisoners succeeded in escaping.  These were the only survivors.  It has been officially established by reports received by the war department that all the remaining prisoners, including your husband, perished as a result of this ruthless attack."

   
    Bruni's family held a memorial service for him in Janesville on Sunday, November 11, 1945, at Overton Funeral Home.  In 1952, the remains of Capt. Fred T. Bruni Jr. and the other American soldiers, who had died on Palawan Island, were returned to the United States.  Since the remains of the POWs were so badly burnt that they could not be identified, the soldiers were buried in a common grave on February 14, 1952, at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. 

    The picture below is of Capt. Bruni's name on the headstone of the Palawan Massacre victims at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.  The burial was attended by his wife, his mother, his sister, and his three brothers. 


 

 

 

 


Above: Capt. Fred Bruni's name on the headstone of the grave for the victims of the Palawan Massacre.

Below: A full photo of the headstone.

 

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