Sgt. Herbert August Durner Jr.
Sgt. Herbert A. Durner Jr.
was one of the three sons of Herbert A. Durner Sr.
& Bessie May Fellows-Durner. He was born
on June 15, 1916, and grew up in Evansville,
Wisconsin, and graduated from Evansville High
School in 1935. After high school, he worked
as an electrician's apprentice.
Knowing that a draft act had been passed, Herb joined the Wisconsin National Guard's 33rd Tank Company in Janesville, Wisconsin. He was called to federal duty when the company was federalized on November 25, 1940, and three days later left for Fort Knox, Kentucky, by train.
Herb trained at Ft. Knox,
Kentucky, where a typical day started at
6:15 A.M. with reveille, but most of the
soldiers were already up so wash, dress,
and be on time for assembly.
Breakfast was from 7 to 8 A.M. which was
followed buy calisthenics from 8 to
8:30. After this, the remainder of
the morning dealt with .30 and .50
caliber machine guns, pistols, map
reading, care of personal equipment,
military courtesy, and training in
The overseas destination of the 192nd was given
the designation "PLUM," but Herb found that PLUM
was known to everyone at Camp Polk. All
over the camp on light poles and in day rooms,
the army had posted bills seeking volunteers to
join the 192nd. The volunteers were needed
to replace those men released from federal
service. The bills also stated that the
battalion was being sent overseas to the
Philippine Islands. In spite of this, Herb
was actually threatened with a court martial
when he spoke about the battalion's destination.
The battalion traveled over
different train routes to San
Francisco, California, and were
ferried to Ft. McDowell on Angel
Island, where they received
inoculations and physicals.
Those members of the battalion who
were found to have treatable medical
conditions remained behind on the
island and scheduled to rejoin the
battalion at a later date.
Some men were simply replaced.
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. This
belief of the highest ranking officer in an
area being in command was a situation the
tankers found themselves in repeatedly until
tank command made it clear that the tanks
would only take orders from it.
As a tank commander, it was Herb's job to command the tank's crew during engagements against the Japanese. He would also control the which way the driver would go through a series of signals given by tapping the driver on his shoulders. Herb's tank crew of Ed DeGroot, Bob Bohem, and Ken Squire did what they could during the attack.
The night of April 8, 1942, Herb commanded a platoon of eight tanks that were sent north to defend an airfield against the advancing Japanese. Before they left the 192nd's headquarters area, he told the other 31 men that their mission was most likely a one way trip. Their orders were to hold out as long as possible. As the tankers reached the airfield, they received orders to return to HQ.
On April 9, 1942, Herb and the other men received word of General King's surrendering them to the Japanese. He and many of the other men were angry because they wanted to fight to the very end.
Once news of the surrender reached them, Herb's tank crew and the other tank crews spent their remaining time as free men cutting the gas lines on their tanks and firing a armor piecing shell into the engines of each of the tanks. After they had finished, they waited for the Japanese to arrive. This took place the next day.
When the Japanese arrived, Herb and the other
men were pushed around, and the Japanese made
menacing gestures with their rifles. Each
rifle had a bayonet attached to it. The company was sent south to
Mariveles, there they were searched and the
Japanese took whatever they wanted from the
men. It was from this barrio at the
southern tip of Bataan that he started what
became known as the death march.
It took Herb five days to complete the march. He recalled that their were men who did not have shirts to protect their skin from the sun. These men literally baked in the sun as they marched. With him on the march were Dale Lawton and Forrest Knox.
The POWs marched north toward San Fernando. As they walked they passed artesian wells. According to Herb, at one point he and the other POWs were stopped at wells. They could look at the water flowing from them, but they were not allowed to take any water. To keep moisture in his mouth, Herb kept a pebble in his mouth and worked it around his swollen tongue.
At another point on the march. Herb and the other prisoners were left sitting in the sun for hours. In his opinion, the Japanese wanted the POWs to bake.
At San Fernando, Herb and the other prisoners were boarded onto small wooden boxcars used to haul sugarcane. They were packed in so tightly that the dead remained standing until the living left the cars. At Capas, the POWs climbed out of the cars and walked the last few miles to Camp O'Donnell.
While a prisoner at Camp O'Donnell, Herb and other POWs were given permission to collect water for baths. The men organized a system were they carried water to the camp in small buckets. They then dumped the water into a 55 gallon drum.
This job turn out to be long and hard. To protect their work, the men posted a guard. Somehow the system broke down and the drum of water was left unguarded. When Herb came up to the barrel, two officers were using the water.
Herb explained to the officers that the water belonged to him and his friends. The officers looked at Herb and said that it was their water and that they were going to use it. Herb kicked the barrel as hard as he could causing it to spill its contents on the ground. This left the two officers covered with soap with no place to rinse off. Herb didn't stick around to find out how they got the soap off themselves.
Herb was also held as a POW at Cabanatuan.
During his time at the
camp, medical records show that he was admitted
to the camp's hospital on August 14, 1942.
The reason why he was hospitalized was not
given. His date of released was also not
The brutality shown to the POWs
the camp, a
was called the
the camp for
Upon arriving in Japan, Herb was held at Ashio Camp which was also designated as Tokyo #9B. He was given POW #3954 and worked as slave labor in a copper mine. He remained in this camp until August 14, 1944, when he was transferred.
Herb would spend the remainder of the war at Tokyo Camp #1-B which also was known as Kawasaki #1. The prisoners in the camp were used as slave labor at the Kawasaki ship yard. At the ship yards, some of the POWs worked as welders while others worked as laborers.
When the war ended, Herb was the seventh member of A Company liberated. Of the 99 men who left Janesville on November 25, 1941, Herb was one of 34 to survive the war and Japanese prison camps.
When he returned to the United States on the U.S.S.
Hugh Rodman, arriving at San Francisco on
October 3, 1945, he was sent to Letterman General
Hospital for more medical treatment. Herb
returned to Evansville after the war, and when
he arrived home, he learned that his parents had
moved to Janesville.
One of the lasting affects of his time as a POW
was that Herb had a hard time smiling. He
also never forgave the Japanese for what he had
gone through as a POW.
Herbert Durner passed away on May 26, 1995, and was buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Wisconsin, in Campbell Block 3, Section 036, Grave 8.