Cpl. Albert H. Cornils
Cpl. Albert Herman Cornils was born on September 15,
1916, to Herman and Eva Cornils. With his
brother, he lived at 5140 Benton Avenue in Downers
Grove, Illinois, and attended Downers Grove High
School. After high school, Albert worked as a
wrapping clerk for a stationary company. In
September of 1940, Albert was talked into joining the
Illinois National Guard at Maywood by his best friend
from high school, Lewis
Twelve weeks later, Al was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, training with the regular army. It was there that he was trained as a mechanic to maintain the trucks and tanks of the company. He also trained as a tank driver and a radio operator. The biggest problem in the training was the inexperience of the officers. This situation was not resolved until the battalion was in the Philippine Islands.
Al believed that the training at Fort Knox did little to prepare the men of the battalion for what lay ahead of them in the Philippines, since there were not too many similarities between Kentucky and the Philippines. The one thing that Al remembered, about the training at Fort Knox , was that he made friends that would be his for a life time.
In late summer 1941, Al and the battalion went to Louisiana for one month of maneuvers. During the maneuvers, none of the soldiers had any idea that they had already been selected for overseas duty. It was only after the maneuvers had ended that the battalion was informed that their time in the army was being extended another one to six years.
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. The general apologized that the men 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.
The early afternoon of December 8, 1941, the tankers were all sitting in their tanks around the perimeter of Clark Field when the first wave of Japanese planes came over. Albert remembered running toward a tree in an attempt to protect himself from enemy fire. To protect the equipment, everything was pulled out except for the trucks.
Some tankers attempted to shoot down the planes while riding in their half tracks. Since the machine guns had not been sighted, most of them jammed. After the attack, the battalion was sent to the barrio of Bamban. Al would remain there for two weeks with Sgt. Albert McArthur and the maintenance truck while the tanks went north toward Lingayen Gulf after one week.
Along with the other members of Company B, Al worked to hold back the Japanese troops as long as possible. Al kept the maintenance truck moving and occasionally he would cannibalize other trucks for parts. The problem of inexperienced officers was resolved when General McArthur sent out a communiqué requesting the names of officers who were contributing to bad morale. Al, like the other members of his company, knew that the fight they were in would be lost, but he still fought on as long as possible.
When the Filipino and American Forces on Bataan surrendered, Albert became a Prisoner of War. He first heard of the surrender on the radio. Al, at this time, was near town of Mariveles. The next morning Al was awakened by Japanese soldiers. The soldiers urged the Americans to move by the point of their bayonets. The POWs were not allowed to take anything with them besides the clothes on their backs. If the soldier had slept in his shorts, that was all he was allowed to take.
It was near Mariveles that Al was reunited with the rest of the company. At the start of the march, the prisoners already were starving and in no shape to march the distance the Japanese expected them to march. The soldiers started the march on the day of the surrender, April 9, 1942.
The POWs were marched and then given a rest to be fed. When it started to rain, the Japanese did not wait to feed them and forced the prisoners to start marching again. From the lack of food, Al was out of his head. Three other members of Company B, Sgt. Ray Vandenbrouke, T/Sgt. Albert McArthur and Sgt. James Bainbridge saved his life.
Having seen a number of prisoners bayoneted, McArthur, Vadenbroucke and Bainbridge knew that Al's falling out would mean he would be killed. The three men took turns carrying Al between them on the march. Of these three men, only Ray Vadenbroucke would survive the war and life in the prison camps.
Al spent time at Camp O'Donnell and then Cabanatuan. The conditions at Cabanatuan were atrocious. The food was the main problem because it was a rice diet. A typical meal for the prisoners would be a soup made of rice and fish heads. Al believed that he was more fortunate than some men because he did not get dysentery. In the camp, he was assigned to Barracks #5, Group 3.
At this time, Al volunteered himself and Ray Vandenbrouke to go out on a work detail because Ray had malaria and Al knew that to survive they had to get out of the camp. The two men were sent to Clumpet to rebuild a bridge over the Pampanga River. The conditions on this detail were in Al's opinion the best he experienced as a POW.
Al was next sent to Lipa, Batangas, where he was assigned to building runways. The Japanese had extremely strict discipline for the prisoners there, but it was also there that Al received his first red cross package. From Lipa, Al was returned to Cabanatuan where he had his first attack of dysentery. Things in this camp were bad and fifty men were being buried a day. Al also came down with dry beriberi there. He believed what saved his life was that he would sun himself for hours.
Al was sent to Cabanatuan after the detail ended. According to medical records kept at the camp. Al was admitted to the camp hospital, on November 9, 1942,suffering from diarrhea. The hospital was known as "Zero Ward." It was given this name since most of the POWs who went into the hospital did not leave alive. He remained in the hospital until November 25, 1942, when he was discharged and returned to duty.
Albert was next sent to Fort McKinley. It was while he was a POW there that he saw his first American planes since the start of the war. The POWs watched as the American and Japanese planes engaged in dogfights high above their heads.
While a POW in the Philippines, Al experienced several acts of kindness on the part of the Japanese guards. Al had a toothache and his face was swollen on one side. The guard noticed this and took Al to a Filipino dentist to have the tooth worked on. He also experienced acts of kindness by two guards that the prisoners referred to as "Big Santa" and "Little Santa". These two guards did little things for the prisoners to make their lives a little easier.
From Camp McDowell Al was taken to Manila. Upon arrival at Manila, his detachment of POWs was suppose to be boarded onto the Arisan Maru. Since part of his group of POWs had not arrived, another detachment of POWs were boarded onto the ship. On October 3rd, Al was boarded onto the Hokusen Maru for shipment to Formosa. As it turned out, the Arisan Maru was sunk by an American submarine on its way to Japan.
Albert and the other POWs were jammed into the Houkusen Maru's hold. The POWs on the ship were packed in the hold so tightly that they had to take turns sitting down. If someone died, the POWs would pass his body over their heads so that it could be taken on deck and thrown overboard. Other men lost their minds on the ship. Beneath them was coal that was being sent to Japan.
The hatches of the hold were latched shut making it pitch black. In this situation, men went out of their minds. Albert kept his canteen filled with water and used it as a weapon. The sane POWs gathered in groups for protection with one standing guard.
The ship crisscrossed the China Sea before it arrived in Hong Kong on October 11, 1944. During the voyage, the prisoners heard the soundings of American submarines as they followed the transports. Al's body became covered with abscesses while in the ship's hold. When the ship arrived in Hong Kong, the POWs were allowed on deck to wash with salt water. This helped his sores to heal.
From Hong Kong, Al was taken to Formosa arriving there on November 11, 1944. Al and the other prisoners lived in a schoolhouse. The camp was known as Inrin Temporary Camp. The Japanese had determined that Al and the other POWs were too ill to continue to Japan. They were held in the camp until they were healthy enough to continue the trip to Japan. While there, he and the other POWs worked in gardens growing vegetables. This was the first decent food he and the other POWs had had in years. They also were treated better.
From Formosa, Al was sent to Japan on the Melbourne Maru. The ship sailed on January 14, 1945 and arrived at Moji on January 23rd. Al entered the country at Yokohoma Harbor. By train he was sent to Honshu in northern Japan to work in an open pit copper mine. The camp he was held in, Sendai #7, was about a day from the City of Sendai.
Al's job was to mine copper ore. To do this, Al was assigned a teenage Japanese boy as a helper. The two of them had to fill ore cars and then push them to the dumping area. It was hard work which was made harder by the cold weather in the winter.
Since the winters were harsh, the prisoners were issued warm clothing. The problem was that the POWs wore straw shoes which froze when they got wet. This resulted in Al getting frostbite on his feet. Food in the camp was scarce, but by this time even the Japanese people had little to eat.
How long Al remained at the camp is unknown. It is known that he was sent to Ashio #8-D. The POWs in this camp also worked in a copper mine. He was held in this camp until the war ended.
Al and the prisoners were never informed that the war was over. One day the guards were simply gone. When they returned, they informed the POWs that the Americans were coming. When the American Navy arrived, food was dropped by planes to the POWs. They POWs were warned to stay out of the area where the food was being dropped. Some prisoners did not listen and were killed when they were hit by the 55 gallon drums carrying the food.
In September of 1945, Al was freed by the American Navy. Only after his rescue did Al learn that both his parents had passed away while he was a POW. His aunt and uncle had withheld this information from him so that he would have something to live for. Al returned to the Philippines and was held there until he was healthy enough to be sent home. He was discharged, from the army, on May 26, 1946.
Three weeks after returning home, he married Katherine Wolff. The couple raised two children. In 1955, he moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he passed away on December 7, 1995. He was interred in the mausoleum at Memorial Gardens Cemetery, Colorado Springs.