DeCurtinsA

Pfc. Albert E. DeCurtins


    Pfc. Albert E. DeCurtins was one of twin sons born on August 2, 1917, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Frederick & Margaret DeCurtins.  He, and his five brothers and sister, grew up in both Wapakoneta and at 337 East Wayne Street in Celina, Ohio.  He attended school in both towns and graduated in 1935 from Immaculate Conception High School, where he was a star basketball player.  After high school, he worked as a Mersman Brothers Table Factory in Celina.

    Albert was inducted into the army in 1941.  When Headquarters Company, 192nd Tank Battalion was formed in January, 1941, at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Albert was assigned to the company.  He trained there until the late summer of 1941but what specific training he received is not known.  In the late summer of 1941, he took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers the battalion was ordered to Camp Polk, Louisiana, instead of returning to Ft. Knox.  At Camp Polk, he and the other members of the battalion learned they were being sent overseas.
    Traveling west over different train routes, the tankers arrived in San Francisco.  They were ferried to Angel Island where they received physicals and were inoculated.  Men determined to have medical issues were replaced or scheduled to rejoin the battalion at a later date.
   The battalion sailed from San Francisco on Monday, October 27th for Hawaii as part of a three ship convoy.  They arrived in Hawaii on Sunday, November 2nd, and had a layover.  The soldiers received shore leave and allowed to explore the island.  The ships sailed again on Tuesday, November 4th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam on Sunday, November 16th, and took on bananas, vegetables, coconuts, and water.  The soldiers remained on ship since the convoy was sailing the next day.  
    About 8:00 in the morning on Thursday, November 20th the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Many of the tankers rode buses to Ft. Stostenburg.  Other battalion members boarded their trucks and drove them to fort north of Manila.
  The maintenance section of the battalion remained behind to unload the battalion's tanks.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by Colonel Edward 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.  The fact was he had not learned of their arrival until days before they arrived.  He remained with the battalion until they had received their Thanksgiving Dinner.  Afterwards, he went to have his own dinner.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons, since the guns had been greased to prevent them from rusting during the trip to the Filipinos.  They also spent a large amount of time loading ammunition belts.  The plan was for them, with the 194th Tank Battalion, to take part in maneuvers.
    The morning of Monday, December 1st, the tanks and half-tracks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guard the airfield from Japanese paratroopers.  Two members of each crew had to remain with their vehicles at all times.  HQ Company remained in the battalion's bivouac.
    The officers were informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor and sent to their companies.  All members of the tank and half-track crews were ordered to their vehicles.  That morning, the sky was filled with American planes flying in every direction.  At noon, the planes landed to be refueled, lined up in a straight line, and the pilots went to lunch.  At 12:45, planes were seen approaching the airfield from the north.  When bombs began exploding on the runways, they knew the planes were Japanese.  The attack destroyed the Army Air Corps.

    Albert took part in the delaying action to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippine Islands.  It was during this time, that a photo of a half-track was taken on Bataan which often appears in books.  The soldier sitting on the front hood of the half-track, holding a tommy-gun  was Albert DeCurtins. 

    Albert became a Prisoner of War when the Filipino and American defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese.  Capt. Fred Bruni came to the members of HQ Company and told them of the surrender the evening of April 8th and told them they were surrendering the next morning.  He told them to remain in the area, but to destroy anything that the Japanese could use.  He also somehow got a hold of enough bread and pineapple juice for the soldiers to have what he called, "Their last supper." The next day, April 9, 1942, Albert became a Prisoner of War.
    The members of the company remained in their bivouac for two days before the Japanese made contact with them on April 11th.  He told them to move with their possessions to the road which ran in front of their bivouac.  The members of the company marched to the road and were made to kneel along the sides of the road with their possessions in front of them.  As they knelt, Japanese soldiers passing them took whatever they wanted from the Americans.

    The Americans were ordered onto their trucks and drove toward Mariveles.  Outside the barrio, they were herded onto an airfield.  As they sat at the airfield, they noticed that Japanese soldiers were gathering across from them.  The Americans realized that the Japanese were forming a firing squad.  As the Japanese were preparing to execute Albert and the other POWs, a Japanese officer pulled up in a car and got out.  He spoke to a Japanese sergeant then got back into the car and drove off.  The Japanese soldiers lowered their guns.

   Not long after this incident, Albert and the other POWs were ordered to move.  They marched into Mariveles where they were ordered into a school yard.  They were left there for a day.  During this time they went without food or water. 
   The Japanese ordered them to move.  They marched until they were instructed to rest.  As they sat, t
hey realized that behind them was Japanese artillery.  The four guns began firing on the Islands of Corregidor and Ft. Drum.  Soon the islands began firing upon the Japanese guns.  The American shells began landing among the POWs killing them.  The POWs had no place to hide from the shells resulting in American deaths.  One group of POWs took cover in a small brick building which took a direct hit killing them.  Three of four of the Japanese guns were knocked out.

    When the POWs were ordered again, they had started what became known as the death march.  Albert trudged 65 miles with his friend from Celina, Pvt. Peter Garmon.  When they reached San Fernando, they were put in a bull pen and ordered to sit.  They remained there until the Japanese ordered them to form 100 men detachments and marched to the train station.  There, small wooden boxcars were waiting for them to board.  The cars were known as "forty or eights" and could hold forty men or eight horses, but the Japanese put 100 men in each car and closed the doors.  Those who died remained standing until the living left the cars at Capas.  The POWswalked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.
    Albert was first held as a POW at Camp O'Donnell.  While there, Albert met Fr. John Wilson, a Roman Catholic priest.  As it turned out, Fr. Wilson was also from Celina. There was only one water spigot for the entire camp which meant that the POWs stood in line for hours to get a drink.  Disease spread among the POWs resulting the deaths of many of them.  As many as 55 POWs died each day. Realizing that they had to do something, the Japanese opened a new camp at Cabanatan which had been a Filipino Army Base.

    When Cabanatuan Prison Camp opened in May, 1942, Albert was sent there.  It was sometime during his imprisonment there that Albert developed dysentery.  He was already sick with malaria and was put in the camp hospital on July 18, 1942.  Fr. John Wilson heard that Albert was extremely ill and sought him out.  Fr. John administered to Albert "The Last Rites" of the Catholic Church.

    Pfc. Albert E. DeCurtins died on Thursday, September 10, 1942, at Cabanatuan Prison Camp.  He was 25 years old.  Fr. John Wilson presided over the funeral service.  After the war, Fr. Wilson told the DeCurtins family of Albert's short life as a Japanese POW.

    The remains of Pfc. Albert E. DeCurtins were returned to the United States after the war.  Since the remains of the POWs in the grave had become mixed and none could be positively identified, the men were buried in a common grave.  On November 23, 1949, Albert and six other POWs were buried in a mass grave at Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Nebraska.  This location was selected because each family would have approximately the same distance to travel to visit the grave.  The men were buried in Section R, Graves 37, 38, and 39.

    After the war, the VFW Post in Celina was renamed the Eichar-DeCurtins VFW Post 5713.  At some point in time, all five of Albert's brothers were members of the post.


 

 

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