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. He 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.
Herb trained at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and then took part in maneuvers in Louisiana in the late summer of 1941. It was after the completion of the maneuvers that the battalion learned at Camp Polk that they were being sent overseas. Those men determined to be too old were released from federal service. Those going overseas received a ten day pass home.
The overseas destination of the 192nd was
suppose to me a secret. But Herb found
that this "secret" was known to everyone at Camp
Polk. All over the camp on light poles and
in dayrooms, 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
The battalion traveled by train to
San Francisco. By ferry, they
were taken to Ft. McDowell on Angel
Island. On the island, they
received inoculations and
physicals. Those members of
the battalion who were found to have
treatable medical conditions
remained behind on the island.
They were scheduled to join the
battalion at a later date.
On December 8, 1941, Herb lived through the Japanese attack of Clark Field. The tanks had been placed around the perimeter of the airfield to prevent the use of paratroopers. During the attack, the tankers could do little more than watch since most of their weapons were useless against planes.
Herb fought the Japanese for four months before the Filipino and American forces were surrendered to the Japanese. Herb's tank crew of Ed DeGroot, Bob Bohem, and Ken Squire did what they could during the attack.
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.
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.
It was during this event that Capt. Walter Write was killed planting a landmine. In spite of his wounds, he continued to give orders to his company. His main concern was for his soldiers safety.
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 by the Nissyo MaruJapanese. The Japanese made menacing gestures with their rifles. Each rifle had a bayonet attached to it.
As a Prisoner of War, Herb with his 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 boxcars. They were packed in so tightly that the dead remained standing. 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
Upon arriving in Japan, Herb was held at Hitachi Camp which was designated as Tokyo #8B. He was given POW #185. The POWs were used 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 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 at the end of the war. 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. 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. Herb was discharged from the Army on April 26, 1946.
Herbert Durner returned to Evansville after the
war. He married Marjorie Hyne in 1946 and
worked as an electrician.
Herbert Durner passed away on May 26, 1995, and was buried at Maple Hill Cemetery in Evansville, Wisconsin, Campbell Block 3, Section 036, Grave 8.