Cigoi

Sgt. Walter F. Cigoi


     Sgt. Walter F. Cigoi was born in August 18, 1917, to Louis & Olga Cigoi in York Township, DuPage County, Illinois.  The family first resided at 315 Elm Park Avenue in Elmhurst and later lived at 2235 West Huron Street in Chicago. 
    During the 1930s in Maywood, he joined the Illinois National Guard as a member of the 33rd Tank Company.  He also worked at Hines Veterans Administration Hospital as an attendant.  Among the members of his company, Walter and Robert Bronge were known as the "Meatball Twins".

     Walter went to Fort Knox, Kentucky when the company was "federalized" in November of 1940.  At Fort Knox, he learned to operate tanks, halftracks and motorcycles.  He next took part in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941.  It was after these maneuvers that the members of the 192nd Tank Battalion learned that they had been selected by General George S. Patton to go to the Philippine Islands.
    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.A.T. 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, who apologized that they 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.
    
    On December 1st, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard against paratroopers.  Two crew members had to be with their tank at all times.  The morning of December 8, 1941, the tankers were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Airfield.  They had received word of the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  As they sat in their tanks and half-tracks they watched as American planes filled the sky.  At noon, the planes landed and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, the tankers watched as planes approached the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.

    At 12:45 in the afternoon on December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Elkoney lived through the Japanese attack on Clark Airfield.  That morning, they had been awakened to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor just hours earlier.  He and the other tankers were eating lunch when planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, they thought the planes were American.  They then saw what looked like rain drops falling from the planes.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that the tankers knew the planes were Japanese.  The company remained at Clark Field for the next two weeks.
    The tank battalion received orders on December 21st that it was to proceed north to Lingayen Gulf.   Because of logistics problems, the B and C Companies soon ran low on gas.  When they reached Rosario, there was only enough for one tank platoon, from B Company, to proceed north to support the 26th Cavalry.
    On December 23rd and 24th, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta.   The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river.  As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening.  They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
    On December 25th, the tanks of the battalion held the southern bank of the Agno River from Carmen to Tayung, with the tanks of the 194th holding the line on the Carmen-Alcala-Bautista Road. The tanks held the position until 5:30 in the morning on December 27th.

    The tankers were at Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  On January 1st, conflicting orders were received by the defenders who were attempting to stop the Japanese advance down Route 5.  Doing this would allow the Southern Luzon Forces to withdraw toward Bataan.  General Wainwright was unaware of the orders since they came from Gen. MacArthur's chief of staff. 
    Because of the orders, there was confusion among the Filipinos and American forces defending the bridges over the Pampanga River.  Due to the efforts of the Self Propelled Mounts, the 71st Field Artillery, and a frenzied attack by the 192nd Tank Battalion the Japanese were halted.  From January 2nd to 4th, the 192nd held the road open from San Fernando to Dinalupihan so the southern forces could escape.

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the night of January 6th/7th, the 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it, cross a bridge, and then cover the 192nd's withdraw over the bridge. The 192nd was the last American unit to enter Bataan.

    Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare.  The tank battalions, on January 28th, were given the job of protecting the beaches.  The 192nd was assigned the coast line from Paden Point to Limay along Bataan's east coast.  The Japanese later admitted that the tanks guarding the beaches prevented them from attempting landings.  

    A little over two weeks after arriving in the Philippines the 192nd Tank Battalion found itself as part of the first line of defense against the Japanese guarding beaches that could be used to land troops.  During the Battle of Bataan, the tanks of B Company were assigned to the east coast of Bataan to prevent the Japanese from landing troops.  It was during this assignment that Walter took part in a firefight with Japanese ships.

    Each morning, in an attempt to find the American tanks, the Japanese would send a reconnaissance plane known to the Americans as "Recon Joe" over the Bataan jungle.  Since the jungle was dense, Recon Joe could never spot the tanks.   As the number of tanks dwindled, Walter was reassigned to a half-track.

    One morning, Walter got angry that "recon Joe" woke him up, so Walter attempted to shoot down the reconnaissance plane.  To do this, he pulled his half-track onto the beach and began firing at the plane; unfortunately, he missed.  Twenty minutes later, Japanese dive bombers bombed the American position.  The attack resulted in the deaths of three members of B Company. 

    B Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese soldiers who had been trapped behind the main defensive line.  The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket.  Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank exited the pocket.
    To exterminate the Japanese, two methods were used.  The first was to have three Filipino soldiers ride on the back of the tank.  As the tank went over a Japanese foxhole, the Filipinos dropped three hand grenades into the foxhole.  Since the grenades were from WWI, one out of three usually exploded.
    The other method to use to kill the Japanese was to park a tank with one track over the foxhole.  The driver gave the other track power resulting with the tank spinning around and grinding its way down into the foxhole.  The tankers slept upwind of their tanks.

     When the Filipino and American troops on Bataan were surrendered, Walter was one of members of B Company who escaped to Corregidor.  Being that he had combat experience he was assigned to the 4th Marines.  On May 6, 1942, he became a Prisoner of War when Corregidor was surrendered.  He remained on the island held as a POW on the beach. 
    Walter was next sent to Cabanatuan when the camp after spending a short time at Bilibid Prison.  This camp opened since the Japanese finally acknowledged that the death rate at Camp O'Donnell, the first POW camp, had to be dealt with by them.

    While at Cabanatuan, Walter came down with malaria and was sent to "zero ward" on June 19, 1942.  This was the camp's hospital.  It was given the name since most of the POWs who were sent there would not leave it alive.  According to records kept by the medical staff, Wlater was returned to duty on September 5, 1942. 
    Walter was selected to go out on the Las Pinas Work Detail at some point.  The POWs built runways for an airfield and farmed.  The Japanese rotated the POWs.  One day, they would work on the airfield, the next day they would farm.  When the detail ended, he was returned to Cabanatuan.

    A few months later on October 6, 1942, he was sent to Manila for transport to Manchuria.  On October 8, 1942, Walter and another 1500 POWs were sent to the dock area of Manila and boarded onto Tottori Maru and shipped north.  The prisoners were divided into two groups. One group was placed in the holds while the other group remained on deck.  It is believed that Walter was in the group sent into the hold.  According to survivors, conditions on the ship were indescribable, but those in the hold were worse off than those on deck.  This was made worse by the fact that for the first two weeks of the voyage the prisoners were not fed.

    Shortly after leaving Manila, the Tottori Maru came under a torpedo attack by an American submarine.  The POWs on deck watched as all four torpedoes shot at the ship just missed.  Next, the ship was caught in a typhoon which took five days to ride out.

    After an eight day stay on Formosa, the ship sailed for Pusan, Korea from Takao.  It appears that Walter was considered to be too ill to continue the trip and remained on Formosa.  According to records Walter was sent to the Japanese Imperial Army Hospital at Takao on October 28, 1942.  Walter died from dysentery at Takao, Formosa.  His date of death is listed as Tuesday, November 3, 1942.  After his death, Walter's remains were cremated.  He was buried Daichoku Cemetery at Taihoku, Formosa.

    After the war in 1946, the remains of Sgt. Walter F. Cigoi and four other Americans were exhumed by the American Graves Registration Service and sent to Hawaii.   The remains of these Americans were mixed with the remains of eleven British POWs.  Since the British remains were dominant, the remains were transferred to the Imperial War Graves Commission and reburied at the Sai Wan Bay Cemetery in Hong Kong.  His family was informed of the burial on June 12, 1951.

    It should be noted that Walter's brother, Emil, joined the U. S. Marines so that he could fight in the Pacific Battle Theater.  He hoped that he would be sent to the Philippines and liberate Walter.  According to what has been learned, Emil, as a member of the 1st Marine Division, was killed in action on September18, 1944, on Peleliu Island which is in the Palau Islands.  Emil had no idea that Walter had died two years earlier.


 

 


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