|Pvt. Albert John Christ
Pvt. Albert J. Christ was born on February14, 1917, in
Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Edward E. Christ &
Elizabeth Tierney-Christ. With his three sisters
and three brothers, he grew up at 4427 Maplecroft
Avenue in Parma, Ohio. He graduated high school
and went to work in an aluminum mill.
Albert was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 28, 1941, in Cleveland, Ohio, and sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for basic training. At Ft. Knox, he attended radio operators school and qualified as a tank crew radioman. During his time at Ft. Knox, he became good friends with Peter Pirnat. Both were from Ohio.
After completing basic training, Albert was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, and joined the 753rd Tank Battalion. The battalion had been sent to Camp Polk from Ft. Benning, Georgia. When it arrived, maneuvers were taking place, but the battalion did not take part in them. After the maneuvers ended, the 192nd Tank Battalion was sent to Camp Polk and learned that they were being deployed. Men who were 29 years old were given the chance to resign from military service. Albert either volunteered, or had his name drawn, to joint the battalion and was assigned to Headquarters Company.
The decision for this move - which had been made in August 1941 - was the result of an event that took place in the summer of 1941. A squadron of American fighters was flying over Lingayen Gulf, in the Philippines, when one of the pilots, who was flying at a lower altitude, noticed something odd. He took his plane down and identified a flagged buoy in the water and saw another in the distance. He came upon more buoys that lined up, in a straight line for 30 miles to the northwest, in the direction of an Japanese occupied island which was hundred of miles away. The island had a large radio transmitter. The squadron continued its flight plan south to Mariveles and returned to Clark Field.
When the planes landed, it was too late to do anything that day. The next day, when another squadron was sent to the area, the buoys had been picked up by a fishing boat - with a tarp on its deck - which was seen making its way to shore. Since communication between the Air Corps and Navy was difficult, the boat escaped. It was at that time the decision was made to build up the American military presence in the Philippines.
The 192nd was sent to San Francisco, California, over four different train routes. Once there, they were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island on the U.S.A.T. General Frank M. Coxe. While at the fort, they were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases by the battalion's medical detachment. Those men who had minor physical ailments were held back and told they would rejoin the battalion at a later date. Other men were simply replaced.
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. President 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, they were greeted by Gen. Edward P. King, who apologized they had to live in tents along the main road between the fort and Clark Airfield. He made sure that they had what they needed and received Thanksgiving Dinner before he went to have his own dinner. Ironically, November 20th was the date that the National Guard members of the battalion had expected to be released from federal service.
The members of the battalion pitched the tents in an open field halfway between the Clark Field Administration Building and Fort Stotsenburg. The tents were set up in two rows and five men were assigned to each tent. There were two supply tents and meals were provided by food trucks stationed at the end of the rows of tents.
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 8th, the officers of the 192nd were called to an office and informed of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The letter companies were ordered to the south end of Clark Airfield to guard against Japanese paratroopers. HQ Company remained behind in their bivouac.
All morning the sky was filled with American planes. At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch. At 12:45 in the afternoon, Japanese bombers appeared over Clark Field destroying the American Army Air Corps. Albert, and the other members of HQ, took cover since they had no weapons to use against the planes.
When the Japanese were finished, there was not much left of the airfield. The soldiers watched as the dead, dying, and wounded were hauled to the hospital on bomb racks, trucks, and anything that could carry the wounded was in use. When the hospital filled, they watched the medics place the wounded under the building. Many of these men had their arms and legs missing.
That night, most men slept under their tanks since it was safer than sleeping in their tents. They had no idea that they had slept their last night in a bed. They lived through two more attacks on December 10th and 13th.
The battalion remained at Clark Field for two weeks until it received orders to the Lingayen Gulf area were the Japanese had landed. The battalion repeatedly dropped back as it fought the Japanese. Since they had no air cover, they were strafed by the Japanese. For the next four months Albert worked to keep the tanks running and supplied.
It was the night of April 8th that Gen. Edward King decided that further resistance was futile. Approximately 25% of his men were healthy enough to fight, and he estimated they would last one more day. In addition, he had over 6000 troops who sick or wounded and 40000 civilians who he feared would be massacred. At 10:30 that night, he sent his staff officers to negotiate surrender terms.
Tank battalion commanders received this order, "You will make plans, to be communicated to company commanders only, and be prepared to destroy within one hour after receipt by radio, or other means, of the word 'CRASH', all tanks and combat vehicles, arms, ammunition, gas, and radios: reserving sufficient trucks to close to rear echelons as soon as accomplished."
On April 9, 1942, Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M. The members of the company remained in their bivouac for two days. Capt. Fred Bruni, HQ's commanding officer, gave his men the news of the surrender. He told the soldiers to destroy their weapons and any supplies that could be used by the Japanese. The only thing they were told not to destroy were the company's trucks. The men waited in their bivouac until ordered to move. Albert was now a Prisoner of War.
On April 11th, the first Japanese soldiers appeared at HQ company's encampment. A Japanese officer ordered the company, with their possessions, out onto the road that ran in front of their encampment. Once on the road, the soldiers were ordered to kneel along the sides of the road. They were told to put their possessions in front of them. As they knelt, the Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their possessions and took whatever they wanted from the Americans.
The company boarded their trucks and drove to Mariveles. From there, they walked to Mariveles Airfield and sat and waited. As they sat, the POWs 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 and waiting to see what the Japanese intended to do, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car in front of the Japanese soldiers. He got out of the car and spoke to the sergeant in charge of the detail. The officer got back in the car and drove off. The Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to lower their guns.
Later in the day, Albert's group of POWs was moved to a school yard in Mariveles. The POWs were left sitting in the sun for hours. The Japanese did not feed them or give them water. The POWs stayed there until they were ordered to move, they had no idea that they started the death march.
The POWs were ordered to move again by the Japanese. They continued to march until the Japanese ordered them to rest. Behind the POWs were four Japanese artillery pieces which began firing on Corregidor and Ft. Drum. These two islands had not surrendered. Shells from these two American forts began landing among the POWs. The POWs could do little since they had no place to hide. Some POWs were killed by incoming American shells. One group that tried to hide in a small brick building died when it took a direct hit. The American guns did succeed in knocking out three of the four Japanese guns.
It took the members of HQ Company six days to reach San Fernando. Once there, the POWs were put into a bull pen that had a fence around it. In one corner was a slit trench to be used as a toilet by the POWs. The surface of the trench moved since it was covered in maggots. The POWs had enough room to sit, but they could not lie down. They remained in the pen until ordered by the Japanese to form detachments of 100 men.
The POWs were marched to the train station at San Fernando. There, they were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. The cars could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese packed 100 POWs into each cars and closed the door. Those who died in the cars could not fall to the floor since there was no room. They remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas. From Capas, the POWs marched the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
Camp O'Donnell was an unfinished Filipino training base that the Japanese pressed into service as a Prisoner of War camp. It turned out to be a death trap with as many as fifty POWs dying each day. There was only one working water spigot for the entire camp. To get a drink, men stood in line for days. Many died while waiting for a drink simply because the Japanese guards shut the water off because they could.
To get out of the camp because it was a death trap, Albert was one of 300 POWs who went out on the Tayabas Road Detail which left Camp O'Donnell on May 21, 1942. He may have been better off staying at Camp O'Donnell. The POWs made a three day trek to Tabayas Province and soon found that the Japanese wanted them to build a road with picks and shovels. Their meals were cooked in a rusty wheel barrow, and they slept on the rocks of the river bank where they were working.
The Japanese divided the POWs into teams. The teams raced each other and were rewarded with food, water, and breaks for the amount of work they did. Teams that performed poorly were made to work harder which resulted in them becoming weaker and weaker, since they went without rest and the food they needed. Being in an weakened conditioned, the POWs came down with malaria and dysentery. Many died from dysentery. Replacements for men who could no longer work came from men who had surrendered on Corregidor.
While on the detail, it was reported by other POWs that Albert stole water from the Japanese on eight different occasions and never was caught. Had he been caught, he would have been executed. They described him as being extremely brave.
Many of the original POWs became ill and were sent to Bilibid Prison, where the doctors referred to these POWs as "the walking dead," since they were so ill they knew they would not live. Albert developed cerebral malaria, but he was also weak from exhaustion and starvation. According to the records kept by the doctors at Bilibid, Pvt. Albert J. Christ was sent to the prison on June 29th and died from cerebral malaria, starvation, and exhaustion on July 12, 1942. He was buried in the Bilibid Cemetery.
After the war, Albert's remains were recovered at Bilibid Prison. At his family's request, he was reburied at Arlington National Cemetery on July 13, 1949, in Section 34. Site 221.
There is one more story involving Albert that should be told. During his time as a POW, Albert had a watch with his name and his mother's name on it. After the war, a former POW who was nicknamed "Happy" returned the watch, with the help of Peter Pirnat, to Albert's mother. It turned out that "Happy" had stolen the watch from the Japanese on eight different occasions.
What is known about "Happy" was that he was a member of B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion, and of Polish descent. It is believed that "Happy" was Mike Wepsic who always seemed to have a smile on his face.
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