Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot
Pvt. Edward L. DeGroot was born on January 10,
1919, in Franksville, Wisconsin, to Peter and Mary
Barth-DeGroot. He was the third oldest of
the couple's seven children. In 1940, his
family was living on County Line Road in Racine
County. He was working as a clerk in a grocery
store when the draft act took affect.
On January 29, 1941, Ed joined the United States Army to fulfill his military obligation. When he joined, he enlisted with his brother and three friends. All of them wanted to be assigned to communications and had been promised that they would be allowed to serve together.
Ed and his friends were sent to the recruit center at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. After three days, he was informed that he had been assigned to Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion which was training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Ed was sent to Fort Knox without his brother or his three friends; so much for promises made by the Army.
Ed and the other new members of the 192nd were not put into their new companies immediately. Instead, they lived in tents and received their training by sergeants assigned to the 192nd. Ed recalled that Ben Morin was one of the sergeants assigned this job.
As a member of A Company, Ed was trained as a tank driver and was assigned to the tank of Sgt. Herb Durner. Other members of the crew were Ken Squire, who was the radio operator, and Bob Boehm, the gunner. As Ed looked back on this training, he concluded that it was of some value, but it was totally inappropriate for combat in the jungle.
With the 192nd, Ed went on maneuvers in
Louisiana. It was after the maneuver on
the side of a hill that
the members of the 192nd learned
they were being sent overseas. Many
received leaves home to say their
Next, the battalion was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana where they prepared for duty overseas. Each company received new M3 tanks and half-tracks. The half-tracks replaced the the reconnaissance cars that were used by the battalion at Fort Knox. Using three different train routes, the members of the 192nd traveled west to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island off the coast of California.
In October of 1941, the members of the 192nd sailed for the Philippine Islands. After stopping in Hawaii and Guam, the 192nd arrived in Manila on Thanksgiving Day, 1941. They were immediately sent to Clark Field where their Thanksgiving Dinner consisted of the leftovers of the 194th Tank Battalion.
For the next ten days, Ed and the other men of his tank crew worked to get their tank ready for the additional training that they had been promised. On December 8, 1942, the same day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the tanks of the 192nd were spread out around the perimeter of Clark Field to prevent Japanese paratroopers from taking the airfield.
Just ten hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ed and the other soldiers of his company lived through the Japanese bombing of Clark Field. Since their guns were useless against planes, they could do little more then watch.
After the attack on Clark Field, A Company was ordered north to Lingayen Gulf. After the Japanese landed troops the tanks were used in delaying actions. The problem the tankers had was that every ranking officer, in the immediate area, superseded the orders they had from tank command.
In one incident, that took place December 23rd and 24th, the company was told by General Wainwright's headquarters that he was immediate commander of the area. The company was sent north of the Agno River. While they were north of the river, the main bridge on the Carmen Road was destroyed. The tank company found itself in danger of being caught behind enemy lines. This resulted in the company having to make end runs to cross the river on one of the two remaining bridges.
For the next four months, Ed would fight to stop the Japanese advance in the Philippine Islands. This job was not easy because, in Ed's opinion, the equipment they had received was outdated, and they had received the wrong type of ammunition to be used in the turret cannon. Ed believed that another problem was that the tanks had only received a limited number of armor piercing shells to use against enemy tanks.
After the Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands, Ed was involved in numerous engagements as Company A was assigned the duty of protecting the west coast of Bataan from Japanese invasion. It was during this duty, that Company A would engage the enemy, who had landed troops behind the Filipino and American lines, in what was to become known as the Battle of the Points.
Ed saw a great deal of action during the Battle of the Points. In an attempt to end resistance on Bataan, the Japanese had landed troops on a small point of land on Bataan behind Filipino and American lines. When additional Japanese troops were landed to relieve their comrades, they were landed on the wrong point. This created a second pocket of Japanese troops.
While supporting the infantry, Company A was sent to wipeout these troops which had been cutoff from the main Japanese force. Ed believed that the tanks were ineffective because of the terrain and jungle. With the help of B Company tanks, the pockets were wiped out.
During the morning of April 9, 1942, Ed and the other men of Company A learned of the surrender at their bivouac area. Ed was distressed by the news of the surrender because he believed that he and his fellow soldiers were capable of defeating the enemy.
The next morning, Ed and the other members of Company A started the Death March at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. Ed would do the march with his friends Sgt. Owen Sandmire and Sgt. Harvey Riedemann. The march would be Ed's first experience of man's inhumanity to man.
It was on the march that Ed developed the philosophy that he believed kept him alive. Ed never allowed himself to placed in a situation where he would be vulnerable. During the march he marched in the middle of the formation. Although he saw bodies of dead men and heard the sound of guns, he never witnessed anyone being shot or bayoneted by the Japanese.
As a Prisoner Of War, Ed was first held at Camp O'Donnell. There he was assigned to the burial detail. This was not an enviable job since hundreds of POWs were dying each day. While working this detail, Ed recalled burying Larry Grim and Wesley Fancher of A Company. One of his happiest days was when he was taken off of this detail.
Ed was next sent to Cabanatuan. He was assigned to Barracks 2, Group 2. In the barracks with him were Leonard Adams and John Andrews of the 192nd. While a prisoner there, he worked in the camp farm and sent out on a work detail to build runways.
As the war continued and it became apparent to the Japanese the the Americans would soon be invading the Philippine Islands, Ed was sent to Manila for shipment to Japan in what would become known as a Hell Ship. The ship that Ed and the other Americans were boarded on was the Canadian Inventor II. The ship sailed on July 4, 1944 but returned to Manila with boiler problems. While repairs were made, the POWs were held in its holds for eleven days.
On the ship was Ed's friend from A Company, Sgt. Owen Sandmire. Somehow, Sandy and Ed got made cooks. They were responsible for the prisoners' evening meal. This meant that they were allowed out of the hold to prepare the evening meal. Ed believed that being allowed out of the hold helped him survive the trip to Japan.
On July 16th, the Canadian Inventor sailed a second time. While at sea, it once again experienced boiler problems and could not keep up with the other ships in the convoy. Because of this, the Canadian Inventor was left on its own to make port. It arrived at Takao, Formosa on July 23rd.
For the next twelve days the ship remained in port. During this time salt was loaded onto the ship. When the Canadian Inventor sailed on August 4th, it made its war along the west coast of Formosa to Keelung Harbor. It arrived there on August 5th and remained in port for twelve days as more repairs were made to its boiler.
On August 17th the ship sailed for Japan, but because of more boiler problems, it stopped at Naha, Okinawa. After six days, the Canadian Inventor sailed for Moji, Japan. It finally arrived there on September 1st.
The POWs nicknamed the ship the "Mita Mita Maru". Mati mati in Japanese means "to wait" and that is what the POWs did in the hold of the ship. In the end, Ed spent sixty days in the hold of the tramp steamer as it made its long, slow journey to Japan.
As a prisoner in Japan, Ed was sent to Omine Machi Camp. There he spent the rest of the war working in a coal mine. As a slave laborer, Ed operated a air hammer in the mine.
According to Ed, one morning the prisoners awoke to discover that the guards had disappeared from the camp. American planes appeared and dropped information about the surrender to the POWs. When the planes reappeared, they dropped food, medicine and instructions about transportation from the camp.
After being liberated, Ed boarded the U.S. Consolation, on or about September 16, 1945, suffering from beriberi. The ship returned the POWs to the Philippines where they received medication and shots. When he was deemed healthy enough to return home, Ed boarded the Dutch ship, Klidfontein for the United States. Ed saw the United States for the first time in four years on October 27, 1945. He arrived back in the United States four years to the day that he had left from San Francisco for the Philippine Islands in 1941. Ed was promoted to Staff Sergeant and discharged on July 17, 1946.
Ed returned to Racine and married, Evelyn Kothe on July 1, 1948. Together they would be the parents of four daughters and two sons. Ed worked as an insurance agent in Racine until he retired.
The picture at the bottom of the page was taken of Ed while he was a POW in Japan at Omine Machi. Edward L. DeGroot passed away on December 15, 2004, at his home in Racine, Wisconsin. He was buried at Southern Wisconsin Veterans Cemetery in Union Grove, Wisconsin.