Burchard

 

Pfc. Earl Orrin Burchard


    Pfc. Earl O. Burchard was the son of Orrin Burchard and Villa Johnson-Burchard and 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, because 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, and 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, arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on November 28, 1940.  There the company was now A Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.  For the following months, 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.
    After the maneuvers, instead of returning to Ft. Knox, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of it's members had any idea why they this order had been issued.  It was on the side of a hill that the members of the battalion received the news that they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many had determined that PLUM stood for Philippines, Luzon, Manila. 
    Those men 29 years old or older were given the chance to resign from federal service.  They were replaced with volunteers, or men who had their names drawn, from the 753rd Tank Battalion.  The 192nd also received the 753rd's tanks.

    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, California, 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 major health issues were released from service and replaced, while those with minor health issues were held back and scheduled to rejoin 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, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward P. King, who 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 live in tents, but he had only learned about their arrival days earlier.  After making sure they received Thanksgiving Dinner, he left to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing 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 tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against Japanese paratroopers.  From this time on, two tank or half-track crew members remained with each tank at all times and received their meals from food trucks.

    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 Field.  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 area where the Japanese had landed.
   As a motorcycle messenger, Earl's job was to carry messages between A Company headquarters and battalion headquarters.  He also was expected to scout enemy positions.

    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 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, 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.
    The ship was moved and remained outside the breakwater, at Manila, from July 18th until July 23rd while the Japanese attempted to form a convoy.  The POWs were fed rice and vegetables.  They also received two canteen cups of water. 
    The ship sailed on July 23rd at 8:00 A.M. to Corregidor and dropped anchor off the island at 2:00 P.M.  It remained off the island overnight and sailed at 8:00 A.M. the next day.  The ship sailed north by northeast.  On July 26th at 3:00 in the morning, there was a large  fire off the ship.  It turned out that the one of the ships, the Otari Yama Maru had been hit by a torpedo from the U.S.S. Flasher which was a part of a three submarine wolf pack.  On July 28th, the ship arrived at Takao, Formosa, and docked at 9:00 A.M.   The ship sailed at 7:00 P.M. and continued its northward trip all day and night of July 29th.  On July 30th, the ship ran into a storm.  The storm finally passed by August 2nd.  The POWs were issued clothing on August 3rd and arrived at Moji on August 4th at midnight. 
    At 8:00 in the morning, the POWs disembarked the ship. They were taken to a theater and were held in it all day.  The POWs were divided into different groups and sent to different camps.  The POW detachment Earl was in was taken to the train station.  The train left at 9:00 P.M. and arrived at the town at 2:00 A.M., they were unloaded and walked the three miles to the camp. 

    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.
    The POWs quickly learned the more they did the more these supervisors wanted from them.  After awhile, the supervisor and POWs came to a reasonable agreement on how many cars they would load each day.  The one good thing about working in the mine in the winter was the temperature was about 70 degrees.  Earl recalled that working in the mine was scary because conditions in the mine.  The mines the POWs worked were often mines that Japanese engineers had determined to be unsafe for Japanese miners.
    During his time in the camp, the worst atrocity Earl witnessed was an American who was shot to death by a firing squad.  This was done because the soldier had stolen a piece of bread.  The POWs were always hungry.  "Rice, and more rice-only it was never enough."  The POWs were fed boiled sea weed, sweet potato tops, and even grass.

    During 1945, 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' roofs.
   On August 28th, B-29s appeared over the camp. Two of the planes circled and dropped fifty gallon drums to  the POWs.  For the first time, the POWs knew they were now in charge.  Most of the guards quickly disappeared.  On September 15th, Americans arrived in the camp.  The POWs were taken by truck to the train station.  They road the train to Nagasaki, where they were given physicals, deloused, and the seriously ill were boarded onto a hospital ship.  The rest were taken by the U.S.S. Marathon to Okinawa.  It was while he was on the ship that he wrote home which was mailed from Okinawa.  In the letter he said, "I am a free Yank!"  He also told them, "You're going to have to do plenty of cooking for me when I get home.  There's one thing you can practice on, graham cracker crust pie with a banana cream filling.  Practice on Dad, he won't mind a bit."  He also said, "This is my first chance to write you a letter."  Referring to the seven POW postcards they received, he said, "Those other things weren't real."  They were then flown back to the Philippines.

    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 S.S. Klipfortaine, on October 19, 1945, and was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington.  From there, he 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, and the couple became the parents of six sons and three daughters.  He went into business for himself doing body work on cars and next worked for a car dealer in Janesville.
    In the early 1960s, Earl moved his family to California where he was employed as a body and fender repairman.  One of his sons, Mark, was Killed in Action when his helicopter was brought down on November 17, 1969, in Cambodia, during the Vietnam War.

    Earl O. Burchard passed away on October 5, 2002, in Carmichael, California, and was buried at Saint Patrick's Cemetery in Placerville, California.


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