Dettmer

 

Tec 5 Donald Andrew Dettmer


   T/5 Donald A. Dettmer was the son of William E. Dettmer and Henrietta Candenon-Dettmer.  Donald was born on March 29, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois.  With his two brothers and sister, he grew up on 403 Harrison Street in Lombard, Illinois, and graduated from Glenbard High School.  He worked as a store clerk and was married to Georgia.  The couple resided at 234 South Maple in Oak Park.  He was the father of a daughter.
    Donald joined the Illinois National Guard in July, 1940.  In November 1940, he traveled to Fort Knox, Kentucky, for a year of training.  His National Guard company was designated B Company, 192nd Tank Battalion.

    In the late summer of 1941, Donald took part in maneuvers in Louisiana.  After the maneuvers, the battalion was ordered to remain behind at Camp Polk.  None of the members of the battalion had any idea why they were there.  On the side of a hill, the members learned they were being sent overseas as part of Operation PLUM.  Within hours, many men had figured out they were being sent to the Philippine Islands. 
    From Camp Polk, the battalion traveled west over four different train routes.  Arriving in San Francisco, the soldiers were ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel Island.  On the island, the soldiers were given physicals and inoculated for tropical diseases. Those with health issues were released from service and replaced.
    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 passes and allowed to explore the islands.  They sailed again on October 29th for Guam.  When the ships arrived at Guam, they 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 November 20th, the ships arrived at Manila Bay.  After arriving at Manila, it was three or four hours before they disembarked.  Most of the battalion boarded trucks and rode to Ft. Stotsenburg north of Manila.  It also should be mentioned that October 27th, was the day the battalion had been scheduled to be released from federal service.
    At the fort, the tankers were met by General Edward King.  King 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.
    For the next seventeen days the tankers spent much of their time removing cosmoline from their weapons.  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 first week of December, the tanks were ordered to the perimeter of Clark Field to guarf against paratroopers.  At all times, two crew members remained with their tanks.  Seventeen days
after arriving in the Philippines, Donald survived the Japanese attack on Clark Field on December 8, 1941.
   
On the morning of December 8, 1941, the members of B Company were informed of the Japanese attack on Clark Field and returned to their tanks around the perimeter of the airfield.  About 12:45 in the afternoon as the tankers were eating lunch, planes approached the airfield from the north.  At first, the soldiers thought the planes were American.  It was only when bombs began exploding on the runways that they knew the planes were Japanese.
    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 tankplatoon, 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 fell back toward Santo Tomas near Cabanatuan on December 27th, and December were at San Isidro south of Cabanatuan on December 28th and 29th.  While there, the bridge over the Pampanga River was destroyed, they were able find a crossing over the river.           
    During the withdrawal into Bataan, Donald was able to write seven letters to his parents.  In one letter he showed how food was important to him and the other soldiers.  In the letter he said:     

   

    "I can hardly wait till I get home to eat a good home-cooked meal, Ma.  For the first meal when I get home I'd like some spaghetti and meatballs, also beans.  Remember how I used to go for that?  Make a lot of it, because your son is going to be plenty hungry for that stuff.    I'm also planning a big party when I get home.  All the relatives - and here's hoping cousin Harvey can be there too.  He and I can tell how we won the war for the old U.S.A. (Just joking Ma.)
    There isn't much news.  I did want to take out some insurance, but I guess that's too late.  Say hello to everybody.  I'll be seeing them soon, I hope.  Please don't worry, Ma.  I'm okay and will continue to be okay.  I could say a lot about these damn Japs but I known the censors would scratch it out.
    Well, keep them flying, good luck to Dick (brother) and Vic (brother-in-law) and say hello to sis, Jack, Dorothy, and the baby.
 All my love goes home.  Tell everyone to write.

                                                       Your loving son, Don"
 

    During the withdraw into the peninsula, the company crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown.  The 192nd held its position so that the 194th Tank Battalion could leap frog past it and then cover the 192nd's withdraw. 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.

   
    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.
    Donald became a Prisoner Of War when Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.  He took part in the Death March from Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan.  The POWs were gathered in the schoolyard and sat in the sun for hours.  It was from there that the POWs started the march.
    Most of the POWs were already sick when they started the march.  The first mile was an uphill trudge out of Mariveles.  The POWs went days without food.  The Japanese also refused to allow the POWs to drink from the artesian wells that flowed across the road.  Those POWs who fell were bayoneted or shot.
    At San Fernando, the POWs were packed into small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane.  Each boxcar could hold eight horses for forty men.  The Japanese packed 100 POWs into each boxcar.  With no place to move, the POWs who died remained standing until the living disembarked the cars at Capas. 
   From Capas, the POWs walked the last ten miles to Camp O'Donnell.  The camp was an unfinished Filipino Army Training Base pressed into service by the Japanese as a POW camp.  There was only one water spigot for the entire camp.   Men literally died for a drink of water.  Disease also ran wild in the camp.  As many as 50 POWs died each day.
    Like many others, Donald knew that staying in the camp could lead to his death.  To escape the camp, Donald volunteered to go out on a work detail.  It was while he was on this detail that T/5 Donald A. Dettmer died on Thursday, May 14, 1942.  The cause of his death is not known.  He was buried in Section F, Row 1, Grave 8, at the Camp O'Donnell Cemetery.
    T/5. Donald A. Dettmer's remains were returned to the United States after the war in October 1948.  He was buried, near his mother, who had died in 1946, at Mount Emblem Cemetery in Elmhurst, Illinois, on October 23, 1948, in Section 138, Plot 138 S, Grave 4, in the South Parkway Section of the cemetery.


 

 

Return to Company B

Next