Pfc. Earl Orrin Burchard
Pfc. Earl O. Burchard was
the son of Orrin Burchard and Villa
Johnson-Burchard. He was born on October 22,
1917, in Superior, Wisconsin. With his two
sisters and two brothers, he grew up at 413 South
Linn Street in Janesville, Wisconsin.
In October of 1940, Earl enlisted in the 32nd Tank Company of the Wisconsin National Guard. His reason for doing this was that the draft act had been passed and he wanted to fulfill his military obligation. He also knew that the unit was being called to federal service which would fulfill his military obligation more quickly. He decided that if he had to serve in the army, he would like to serve with friends from his hometown.
Earl with the other members of the Janesville
Tank Company, which was now A Company, 192nd
Tank Battalion, arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky
in November of 1940. There they would
train in tank tactics. In his opinion,
this training was helpful in what lay ahead of
them. During his time at Ft. Knox,
Earl trained as a motorcycle messenger.
Earl next took part in maneuvers in Louisiana
during the late summer of 1941. According to members of the
battalion, their tanks ,as members of the Red
Army, broke through the Blue Army's defenses and
were on their way to capture it's command center
when the maneuvers were suddenly canceled.
The commanding general of the Blue Army was
George S. Patton.
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.
On December 8, 1941, the same day as the attack
on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed Clark
Field. The 192nd was
still guarding the perimeter of
Clark Airfield. At 8:30
A.M., planes took off and the
sky was filled with American
planes all morning. At
noon, all the planes landed and
were parked in a straight line
outside the mess hall. The
pilots went to lunch. At
12:45 planes approached the
airfield from the north.
The tankers on all 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 atrea where the Japanese
For the next four months, Earl and the other members of A Company fought to slow the Japanese advance in the Philippines. His battalion was the last American unit to withdraw into the Bataan Peninsula. During the Battle of Bataan, Earl recalled that it seemed the Americans could never see the enemy, but the Japanese seemed to always be able to see them.
On April 9, 1942, the Filipino and American forces on Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese. That morning, Earl was trying to get some rest and was laying on the ground outside the Battalion Headquarters of the 192nd. He heard the news as it came in from General King's headquarters. Earl was ordered to take the surrender message to Companies A and C of the 192nd.
Earl took part in the death march and did the
march alone. During the march, he never
saw another member of his tank company. He
was first held as a Prisoner of War at Camp
O'Donnell and then Cabanatuan for two
years. During his time at Cabanatuan, he
was a member of Barracks #9, Group 2. He
was also admitted to the camp hospital on
Saturday, February 20, 1943, suffering from an
undisclosed illness. When he was
discharged from the hospital was not recorded.
In July, a list of POWs who were being sent to
Japan was posted in the camp. Earl's name
was on it. On July 15th, trucks arrived at
the camp and the POWs were boarded. The
POWs arrived at Bilibid seven hours later.
Their dinner was rotten sweet potatoes.
Since it was night, they had to eat in the
dark. They remained at Bilibid until July
17th at 8:00 A.M. and walked to Pier 7.
They were boarded onto the Nissyo Maru.
The Japanese attempted to put the entire POW
detachment in the forward hold but failed, so
600 of the POWs were put into the read hold.
Earl was assigned to Fukuoka Camp #23. There, he was reunited with Bob Bartz of A Company. The camp consisted of a mess hall, a hospital, six unheated barracks located on top of a hill with a ten foot high wooden fence around it. In the barracks, the POWs slept in 15 X 15 foot bays. Six POWs shared a bay. At 6:00 A.M., 6:00 P.M., and 9:00 P.M., the Japanese took row call. For the first two weeks in the camp, the POWs learned the Japanese words for mining equipment.
The POWs received their jobs from the camp
commandant who spoke adequate English. The
POWs were divided into two groups of
miners. The "A" group mined during the
day, while the "B" group mined at night.
Every ten days the groups would swap
shifts. "We used
to work ten days on the day shift and ten
days nights and the only time we got off was
when we switched shifts-then we got the
extra time until the alternate shift.
It was a merry-go-round." When
the POWs arrived at the mine, they were turned
over to civilian supervisors who in Burchard's
opinion treated the POWs worse than the guards.
things got worse for the POWs, so they knew the
Japanese were losing the war. At 5:00 P.M.
on August 15th they learned the war was
over. The POWs did not believe it.
The next day the camp commandant, at 10:00 A.M.,
informed the POWs that the war was over.
He also told them that they had to stay in the
camp. On August 24th, the Japanese gave
the POWs paint and canvas and told them to paint
"POW" on the canvas and put it on the barracks'
Earl was returned to the Philippine Islands and assigned to Clark Field. It was also at this time that he was promoted to sergeant. He returned to the United States on the Dutch ship, the S.S. Klipfortaine on October 19, 1945, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington. He then was sent to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. He was discharged from the army on May 22, 1946. The one lasting effect of his captivity is that he had a hard time being around other people.
Pfc. Earl O. Burchard returned to Janesville and
married Rita McGuire on April 26, 1947. He
was the father of six sons and three
daughters. He worked for a car dealer in
Earl O. Burchard passed away on October 5, 2002, in Carmichael, California. He was buried at Saint Patrick's Cemetery in Placerville, California.