Cpl. Leo H. Dorsey
Cpl. Leo H. Dorsey was born
May 11, 1919, to Hubert and Stella Dorsey of
Syracuse, New York. With his three brothers and
two sisters, his family resided at 639 Chestnut
Street in Janesville, Wisconsin. During the
1930s, his father died and his family was living
at 263 Center Avenue in 1940. Leo was
educated in Janesville Public Schools and attended
Janesville High School. While he was a
teenager, he joined the Civilian Conservation
In December of 1939, Leo enlisted in the
Wisconsin National Guard's 32nd Divisional Tank
Company in Janesville, Wisconsin. In
November of 1940, Leo was called to federal duty
when the tank company was called into the
regular army as A Company, 192nd Tank
Battalion. He trained at Fort Knox,
Kentucky and was transferred to the newly
created Headquarters Company of the 192nd Tank
Battalion in January of 1941.
The 192nd remained at Clark Field for almost two weeks. They were than sent to the Lingayen Gulf area where the Japanese had landed.
The battalion spent the next four months attempting to slow the Japanese conquest of the Philippines. Like the other men of his battalion, Leo knew that no reinforcements were coming to rescue them. This was confirmed when Leo and the other defenders of Bataan were surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942.
The members of HQ Company remained in their bivouac for two days until Japanese soldiers arrived and ordered them to move out to the road that ran past where they were encamped. After moving out onto the road, they were ordered to kneel along the shoulders of the road and place their belongings in front of them. As they knelt, Japanese soldiers, who were passing them, went through their belongings.
The members of the company were next ordered to move. Since they had trucks and the Japanese wanted the trucks at Mariveles, they were allowed to drive to the barrio. Once there, they were ordered out of the trucks and ordered to sit in a field.
As the POWs sat, they saw a group of Japanese soldiers forming in front of them. They soon realized that this was a firing squad. As they sat and watched, a Japanese officer pulled up in a jeep and got out. he walked up to the sergeant and spoke to him for several minutes. As they watched, the Japanese sergeant ordered the soldiers to disband. The Japanese officer got into his jeep and drove away.
Leo took part in what would become known as the Bataan Death March. It took Leo three weeks to complete the march because he was ill. He recalled that on the march men were beaten for attempting to get water. Others were shot or bayoneted if they fell out and could not continue.
Leo recalled that a Filipino women risked their lives to give them food. As the POWs marched by, the women ran up and gave them raw eggs or water wrapped in leaves. These women saved the lives of many men.
When Leo finally arrived at Camp O'Donnell, he was put into the hut that passed for a hospital. The next six weeks he spent in the camp hospital suffering from malaria. During this time, his weight dropped to 90 pounds. To get Leo out of the hospital and the camp, Lt. Leroy Scoville got himself and Leo assigned to a work detail. So that Leo would be selected, Scoville and another member of A Company held Leo up under his armpits. Lt. Scoville then helped Leo walk out of the camp to show that he was healthy. The day he went out on this work detail was May 11, 1942, his 23rd birthday.
On the work detail, Leo and the other POWs recovered scrap metal near San Fernando. Members of the two tank battalions were specifically selected for this detail because the Japanese knew they could drive cars. To recover the metal, the POWs worked in teams. The vehicles were tied together by rope and each man drove one to San Fernando. From there, the vehicles were sent to Manila and taken to Japan.
Leo recalled that the Japanese commanding officer of this detail was decent to the POWs. He made sure that they were well fed and that they were not beaten.
When this detail was completed, Leo was sent to Cabanatuan. He was not at Cabanatuan long when he was sent to Bilibid Prison outside of Manila in October of 1942. At Bilibid, the prisoners were given a physical to determine if they were healthy enough to be sent to Japan.
On October 20, 1942, the prisoners were marched through Manila to the dock area. There, Leo was boarded onto the Tottori Maru for Japan. During the voyage to Japan, the convoy was attacked by an American submarine. This resulted in the convoy being held up for two days. During this time the prisoners held in the hold of the ship with the hatches secured.
Upon arriving in Japan, Leo was sent to Tanagawa to build a dry dock. He remained in this camp for two years. In an attempt to get the POWs to work harder, the Japanese offered a food bonus of an onion or rice ball to any POW who loaded fourteen cars of dirt. Leo recalled that many men killed themselves working for the bonus.
It was also at this camp that the POWs refused
to load and unload war materials for the
Japanese. After several beatings, the
Japanese pulled the POWs from the detail.
With their success with the
munitions in mind, the prisoners decided that
they were going to slow construction of the dry
dock by slowing the amount of dirt they removed
for the dry-dock. Even though they were
beaten the prisoners would not load more than
four cars of dirt a day. Pay for a day's work
was about four, U.S., cents a day.
The prisoners also retaliated against the
Japanese by committing acts of sabotage.
One of the easiest acts of sabotage to commit
was to mix the concrete for the dry-dock walls
to thin. The POWs would make the concrete
soupy and mostly water. They did this so
the walls of the dry-dock would start to crumble
after it was completed.
Leo was then sent to Osaka #5-B a camp near Tsuruga, Honshu, on the Sea of Japan. The POWs in this camp were used as stevedores unloading foodstuffs from ships that were arriving in Japan from Korea and Manchuria. In this camp, Leo became bunk mates with Emerson McCarter of A Company. The two men spent the rest of the war together.
While unloading the food from the ships, the prisoners stole food for themselves to supplement their meager rations. An average meal for the POWs was soybean and rice. The POWs carried 100 pound burlap sacks of soybeans. To get extra food, the POWs would tear holes into the bags and drop beans into their pockets. The pockets had holes to allow the beans to fall down their legs and settle in pouches around their ankles. This prevented the Japanese from finding them when they searched them when they returned to camp.
When the Japanese attempted to get the prisoners to unload munitions from ships, Leo and the other prisoners went on strike. Even though they were beaten, the prisoners would not unload the war materials from the ships. The Japanese finally gave in and took the Americans off the detail.
Showing how little respect the Japanese had for the POWs, as part of their diets, the Japanese served barley or burned wheat in place of the rice to the prisoners. The wheat had been in a warehouse fire and determined to be too badly burnt to be given to the Japanese civilians but good enough for the prisoners.
As time went on, Leo became a witness to the bombing of Tsuruga by American planes. The first air raid Leo lived through took place in December 1944. During that month there were twenty air raids. In January 1945, there were even more air raids causing greater destruction.
The prisoners got use to the air raids and did not run for shelter when the air raid siren was sounded. When the siren went off, the prisoners stayed where they were. Only when the short alert was sounded that the bombers were minutes away did they run for cover.
During an air raid, Leo went to the lower floor of the his barracks. Realizing that all his possessions were on the third floor of the barracks, Leo left the floor and attempted to reach his bunk. As he climbed the stairs, the building burst into flames. Leo lost all his clothing except the shoes and shorts he was wearing. He also lost two of his fingers.
In another air raid, Leo did not go to the shelter but watched the bombers. As he watched a Japanese fighter that was attacking the formation of B-29s was hit. Leo watched the plane burst into planes as it fell toward the ground. The plane crashed in flames within a mile of the camp.
In July of 1945, Leo and other POWs watched a B-29 fly over the camp with its bomb bay doors open. As it went over it dropped a 1000 pound bomb. Leo remembered watching the bomb's 20,000 foot downward trip. As they watched, it appeared that the bomb was going to land on the camp. The bomb hit about two blocks from the camp destroying a power plant. The explosion sent a shock wave and debris flying all over the camp.
In August of
1945, Leo and the other prisoners noticed a
change in the attitude of the guards. The
guards who abused the POWs disappeared while
those who had not remained. They turned
their guns over to the POWs who took command of
Leo was sent
back to the Philippines and after recuperation
sent back to the United States by ship.
After time in a military hospital, Leo
returned to Janesville. Leo was discharged
from the army on May 29, 1946. He was
again hospitalized when it was discovered that
he was suffering from tuberculosis. While
he was in the sanitarium, he met Ruby
Watters. The two married on September 8,
1951, and raised a family of nine children.
It should be noted, that Lt. Leroy Scoville, the officer who saved Leo's life by getting him out of Camp O'Donnell, did not survive the war.
Leo H. Dorsey passed away on February 24, 2003, in Madison, Wisconsin. He was buried at Highland Memory Gardens, Cottage Grove, Wisconsin.